Photo illustration by John Lyman

U.S. News


The DHS Disinformation Governance Board is a Good Idea

If ever there was a need for oversight of online information, now is the time. Leading into a year of U.S. midterm elections, Russia’s war on Ukraine, as well as a myriad of other issues, the Internet will no doubt be awash with disinformation.

To counter this problem, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to set up a Disinformation Governance Board that will monitor online conversations and tackle disinformation that presents a security threat to the United States.

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the board is intended to “more effectively combat this threat, not only to election security but to our homeland security.”

Mayorkas also said the board’s establishment is intended to counter Russian misinformation as well as dangerous misinformation being spread by the cartels.

A multitude of global events are taking place simultaneously yet there is minimal awareness of what the actual facts are. Millions of people are writing millions of tweets each day and it is nearly impossible, if not completely impossible, to decipher what is truth and what is falsehood.

In addition to Twitter, Facebook also serves as an online marketplace of ideas and truth – as well as dangerous disinformation. The fact that it is also controlled by just one billionaire with little if any oversight is worrisome.

While there is plenty of truth and plenty of innocent misinformation, there exists an even greater amount of disinformation, intentionally spread by nefarious actors seeking to change the discourse or worse, change realities for the worse.

The situation has gotten so dangerous, that it prompted numerous discussions at the highest levels of government on the matter. The online public square, otherwise known as Twitter, has long been a cesspool of disinformation and hate.

Now, with Elon Musk about to take over the company if all goes his way, Twitter is likely to become an even greater cesspool of disinformation and hate and a vastly smaller meeting place for those seeking to spread truthful information.

But critics have voiced vehement criticism against the DHS Board, likely out of fear that it will seek to curtail political conversations it deems as incitement. Critics also say they are concerned the DHS will eliminate free speech.

Writing in the Washington Post, Aaron Blake notes many on the right compare it to the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on his show, “This is America, and we don’t do things like that here and never have. Or more precisely, we haven’t until now. But now Joe Biden is president, and everything is different. So today, to herald the coming of the new Soviet America, the administration announced its own Ministry of Truth.”

Nina Jankowicz, the Disinformation Governance Board’s executive director, has also come under fire from opponents to the board who claim she supported Democrats and expressed skepticism over reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop.

But her appointment is appropriate, and she will best serve the board in her position which she said she would use to maintain the DHS’s commitment to “protecting free speech, privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.”

In response to the criticism from the right, Mayorkas on Sunday announced the board would not be used to monitor U.S. citizens since it “does not have any operational authority or capability.”

“What it will do,” he said, “is gather together best practices in addressing the threat of disinformation from foreign state adversaries from the cartels and disseminate those best practices to the operators that have been executing in addressing this threat for years.”

He acknowledged that the Biden administration “could have done a better job” in communicating what the DHS Board will be doing.

Thus, according to Mayorkas, the point of the board is to monitor nefarious actors such as terrorists and criminals. Judging by his words, there is no evidence to suggest that the federal government, through the DHS, intends to crack down on ordinary citizens spreading disinformation online.

Speaking on CNN on Sunday, in an effort to dispel rumours, and calm fears over the purpose of the DHS Board, Mayorkas said the board will be “absolutely” politically neutral. “We’re safeguarding free speech, we’re safeguarding civil liberties. I think it is an important endeavour.”

It is understandable of course that at first glance, the DHS Board appears worrying and a threat to true free speech.

But citizens should give the DHS a chance to prove that it will maintain free speech while keeping an eye on terror groups, human traffickers, drug smugglers, and Russia of course.

It is highly likely that, given the chance, the DHS will prove it can monitor the online sphere without infringing on the basic rights of individuals seeking to exercise their right to freedom of speech. With positive results, the DHS can prove the board is a good idea.