Revelations that the Department of Homeland Security is assembling a Disinformation Governance Board ignited a firestorm on Twitter in late April. Conservatives and other critics denounced the board as an Orwellian power grab on the part of the Biden administration, while some liberal accounts argued that it might be a useful tool in correcting the record on disinformation harmful to the public and that it’s not actually that powerful.
Information on the board is currently sparse, but here’s what we know so far:
- It will be directed by Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at The Wilson Center, a D.C.-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to independent research and global issues.
- The board will collate and distribute “best practices” for countering disinformation purveyed by the United States’ enemies.
- The board is currently a small working group in DHS, “with no operational authority or capability.”
“What it will do 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,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN.
Mayorkas also said the board will not do what many of its critics fear: surveilling citizens. He said its focus will instead be on entities that represent a threat to “the security of the homeland.”
“Those criticisms are precisely the opposite of what this small working group within the Department of Homeland Security will do,” Mayorkas said. “I think we probably could have done a better job at communicating what it does and does not do.”
Proponents said the board will be an asset in addressing issues harmful to the public at large, such as human smugglers calling for migrants to come to the U.S.-Mexico border and Russian-propagated election disinformation.
“The spread of disinformation can affect border security, Americans’ safety during disasters, and public trust in our democratic institutions,” the board told The Associated Press in a statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted during a press conference Monday that the board was created during the Trump administration.
“This is a continuation of work that was actually done under the prior administration. Under the Trump administration,” Psaki said. “To address the use of disinformation in helping smugglers prompt the movement of more migrants to the border.”
Some took issue with the idea of the board itself, suggesting that even the name was too on the nose.
“Biden Establishes a Ministry of Truth,” read a headline from a Wall Street Journal opinion column that compares the board to the propaganda arm depicted in George Orwell’s “1984,” which is tasked with doctoring the news to suit the ruling political party’s version of events.
“Nothing is more important to the future of our democracy than the fight against disinformation,” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote. “But a new Department of Homeland Security unit — ominously called the Disinformation Governance Board — is not helping.”
Another op-ed from the Post urges readers to ignore the 1984 “hysteria,” arguing that while the board’s rollout was admittedly ham-fisted (and that going forward the board should operate transparently as possible), the board isn’t the censorship boogeyman GOP leaders want it to be.