“Partisan Fight Breaks Out Over New Disinformation Board”


Nina Jankowicz’s new book, “How to Be a Woman Online,” chronicles the vitriol she and other women have faced from trolls and other malign actors. She’s now at the center of a new firestorm of criticism, this time over her appointment to lead an advisory board at the Department of Homeland Security on the threat of disinformation.

The creation of a board, announced last week, has turned into a partisan fight over disinformation itself — and what role, if any, the government should have in policing false, at times toxic, and even violent content online.

Within hours of the announcement, Republican lawmakers began railing against the board as Orwellian, accusing the Biden administration of creating a “Ministry of Truth” to police people’s thoughts. Two professors writing an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal noted that the abbreviation for the new Disinformation Governance Board was only “one letter off from K.G.B.,” the Soviet Union’s security service.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has found himself on the defensive. In a television interview on CNN on Sunday, he insisted that the new board was a small group, that it had no operational authority or capability and that it would not spy on Americans.

We in the Department of Homeland Security don’t monitor American citizens,” he said.

Mr. Mayorkas’s reassurance did little to quell the furor, underscoring how partisan the debate over disinformation has become. Facing a round of questions about the board on Monday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said it represented a continuation of work that the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had begun in 2020, under the previous administration.

Its focus is to coordinate the department’s response to the potential impacts of disinformation threats — including foreign election influence, like Russia’s in 2016 and again in 2020; efforts by smugglers to encourage migrants to cross the border; and online posts that could incite extremist attacks. Ms. Psaki did not elaborate on how the department would define what constituted extremist content online. She said the board would consider making public its findings on disinformation, although “a lot of this work is really about work that people may not see every day that’s ongoing by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Many of those criticizing the board scoured Ms. Jankowicz’s past statements, online and off, accusing her of being hostile to conservative viewpoints. They suggested — without basis — that she would stifle legally protected speech using a partisan calculus.

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