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DHS suspends new disinformation committee, following criticism


The Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday that it was suspending the work of an internal advisory board intended to combat disinformation after what the department described as a deliberate disinformation campaign.

The creation of the panel, called the Disinformation Governance Board, sparked a firestorm of criticism when it was announced last month. While criticism came from across the political spectrum, including civil liberty groups, the fiercest denunciations came from the right. Republican leaders and commentators spoke of it as an Orwellian ministry of truth that would control people’s speech.

That was never the council’s mandate, a ministry spokesperson said in a written statement. Instead, he was supposed to coordinate the department’s various agencies in combating malicious disinformation by foreign adversaries, drug or human traffickers or other international criminal groups.

Just weeks after its creation, however, its fate is now uncertain. Nina Jankowicz, an authority on disinformation who was chosen in the spring to lead the board, tendered her resignation on Wednesday after facing vitriolic and highly personal harassment and abuse online.

“The fake attacks have become a significant distraction from the department’s vital work to combat disinformation that threatens the safety and security of the American people,” the department’s statement said.

Department Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas asked a bipartisan pair of former officials to consider the issue of countering disinformation: Michael Chertoff, who served as department secretary under President George W. Bush, and Jamie S. Gorelick, Assistant Attorney General. under President Bill Clinton.

Mr Mayorkas asked them to prepare recommendations within 75 days and said the council would not meet during that time. “Its work will be suspended,” the statement said, confirming the suspension, which was reported earlier in The Washington Post.

Ms Jankowicz’s departure, coupled with the council’s difficult deployment, makes it unlikely to resume operations in its current form.

“We have killed the Ministry of Truth!” one of the council’s many Republican critics, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, wrote on Twitter.

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, the left-leaning watchdog group, said opposition to the board has consolidated quickly and fiercely, suggesting an organized and motivated effort. He noted that tackling disinformation has long been a part of government efforts, dating back to the Soviet Union’s campaigns during the Cold War.

The current political climate, however, has turned the very topic into a lightning rod that he says officials should have anticipated better. Instead, they seemed taken aback by the response.

“I think it’s a disservice to all of us that we’re losing this function, especially in the aftermath of what we just saw in Buffalo, because it’s a consequence of that information landscape,” he said. said Mr Carusone, referring to the racist mass shootings. the. “It’s a powder keg.”

As director of the council, Ms. Jankowicz, 33, bore the brunt of the attacks, a subject she knows well. Her most recent book, ‘How to Be a Woman Online’ chronicles the abuse she and other women face from trolls and other malicious actors on the internet.

In a resignation letter submitted Wednesday, she said she joined the department this year to help deal with the impact of misinformation.

“It is deeply disappointing,” she wrote, “that the Council’s mischaracterizations have become a distraction from the Department’s vital work, and indeed, together with recent events globally and nationally, epitomize why it is necessary.”

nytimes

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