The memo that reached the top of the Department of Homeland Security in September could not have been clearer about its plan to create a board to monitor national security threats caused by the spread of dangerous disinformation.
The department, it said, “should not attempt to be an all-purpose arbiter of truth in the public arena.”
Yet when Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced the disinformation board in April, Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators denounced it as exactly that, calling it an Orwellian attempt to stifle dissenting views. So did some critics from the left, who questioned the powers that such an office might wield in the hands of future Republican administrations.
Within weeks, the new board was dismantled — put on “pause,” officially — undone in part by forces it was meant to combat, including distortions of the board’s intent and powers.
There is wide agreement across the federal government that coordinated disinformation campaigns threaten to exacerbate public health emergencies, stoke ethnic and racial divisions and even undermine democracy itself. The board’s fate, however, has underscored how deeply partisan the issue has become in Washington, making it nearly impossible to consider addressing the threat.