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The Department of Homeland Security has paused work on its recently announced Disinformation Governance Board, according to The Washington Post. The board’s director, Nina Jankowicz, has also resigned following an unrelenting stream of harassment. The Post first reported Jankowicz’s resignation, and Protocol has since confirmed it.
The board’s rollout was shoddy even by DHS Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas’ own admission. From the outset, DHS revealed next to nothing about the board’s goals or its authorities, leading to concerns that this new entity might be surveilling social media and deciding what does and doesn’t constitute disinformation. Conservatives also quickly pounced on Jankowicz, accusing her of being a partisan hack. According to the Post, DHS forbid Jankowicz from saying anything publicly in her own defense.
In truth, the goal of the board, Mayorkas explained far too late what to do the opposite of what it was being accused of. Throughout DHS, agencies are already working on ways to combat misinformation and disinformation. The purpose of the board was to coordinate those efforts and ensure that they weren’t crossing lines with regard to free speech and privacy.
But the decision to do that in a public way rather than in a private audit drew undue scrutiny to the effort. As one source familiar with DHS’ plans recently told Protocol, “Having a very large governance board and a really big, public rollout for it with a very well-known person in this space very publicly leading it, that probably drove their risk up a little more than it needed to.”
In a statement, DHS spokesperson Angelo Fernandez said the board has been “grossly and intentionally mischaracterized,” and confirmed that the Homeland Security Advisory Council is now leading a review of the board in hopes of answering two questions. “First, how can the Department most effectively and appropriately address disinformation that poses a threat to our country, while protecting free speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy. Second, how can DHS achieve greater transparency across our disinformation-related work and increase trust with the public and other key stakeholders,” Fernandez said.
The final recommendations are due within 75 days, during which time the board’s work will be paused.
Among the board’s critics were not just the usual suspects in conservative circles, but also platform regulation scholars and legal experts who feared that the well had already been poisoned. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos also got in on the act, with Bezos tweeting this week that the “newly created Disinformation Board should review” one of President Biden’s tweets about taxing the wealthy to fix inflation.
This story has been updated to include comments from DHS.