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5 Things to Know About DHS’ Disinformation Governance Board

Nina Jankowicz, picked by President Joe Biden to lead the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board

Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the creation of a new Disinformation Governance Board. Without further details, a webpage, DHS press releases, or any real information other than the name of the woman appointed to direct the new group, Americans were left to speculate over the weekend about the nature of the board. Finally, on Monday DHS published a fact sheet aimed to clarify the mission of the “internal working group.” The fact sheet acknowledged “there has been confusion about the working group, its role, and its activities.” Here are five things to know about the DGB.

1. What is the stated mission of the DGB?

From the fact sheet: “The Department identifies disinformation that threatens the homeland through publicly available sources, research conducted by academic and other institutions, and information shared by other federal agencies and partners. DHS then shares factual information related to its mission to potentially impacted people and organizations.” DHS defines disinformation as “false information that is deliberately spread with the intent to deceive or mislead, can take many forms.”

2. It’s the DHS’ Job

The DHS considers investigation of disinformation (and dissemination of ‘factual’ information) to be in its purview. Since the initial announcement of the DGB has caused much controversy, Secretary Mayorkas has characterized the board as a “small working group” with no operational abilities. He also attempted to shift the view of the DGB’s work to a focus on foreign threats instead of domestic censorship. Secretary Mayorkas gave examples of combatting lies spread by Mexican cartels trying to rope in potential smuggling victims. Yet, contrary to Secretary Mayorkas’ insistence that the board will focus on foreign actors and threats, the initial Associated Press coverage of the DGB’s creation indicates a bleed into matters pertaining to United States’ elections. The AP article said “the new board also will monitor and prepare for Russian disinformation threats as this year's midterm elections near.” Earlier this year, the DHS’ periodic national terrorism advisory bulletin said “the proliferation of false and misleading narratives” was the first key factor contributing to heightened national security threats and gave examples of “unsubstantiated [claims about] widespread election fraud and COVID-19” which undermine public trust in the government.

3. Who is Nina Jankowicz?

Nina Jankowicz is an academic who has served as an expert witness on disinformation in Congressional hearings and has been a prolific opinion contributor to magazines and newspapers. She was in the middle of a two-year term as a “disinformation fellow” at the Wilson Center, a DC-based regional studies think tank, when she was picked to be the fresh face of the DGB. She has called “for an independent, government regulatory body to provide oversight of and transparency within social media.” In an article she wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine, she explained that “racism and white supremacy course through U.S. history and remain a powerful force today.” Critics have alternatively described her as eminently unqualified and nakedly partisan.

4. The True Purpose of the DGB

This is being debated. Some say the work of the board is important, while others claim that it is an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.” “This is an important board. Its job is to help deal with misinformation being fed into America by foreign actors, both state and non-state actors,” Karl Rove said on Fox News. Taking the other view, the ranking member U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, Senator Rob Portman, issued a statement saying he was deeply concerned about the existence of the board itself. “As the author of the bipartisan law that established the Global Engagement Center to combat the constantly evolving threat of foreign propaganda and disinformation abroad, I do not believe that the United States government should turn the tools that we have used to assist our allies counter foreign adversaries onto the American people,” Senator Portman wrote.

5. Conservative Media’s Reaction

Conservative media is exploding over the creation of the board and the choice of Jankowicz to lead it. Jankowicz has been lampooned for strangely singing a parody of a Disney Mary Poppins song to explain how disinformation is spread in Congress and in the press. Her focus on the spread of disinformation in domestic settings has caused Republicans to assume that the focus of the board she will lead will serve as Biden’s thought police. Wall Street Journal’s Editor at Large Gerard Baker called Jankowicz’s Twitter feed “a mix of impeccably conformist left-wing views about politics and media misinformation.” More details about the creation of the DGB are expected to be revealed Wednesday, as Secretary Mayorkas will testify at a routine hearing for U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.

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