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New U.S. Disinformation Board on Hold Amid Flak From Both Sides

Most current controversies are not clear divisions between True and Untrue or Right and Wrong. Government would merely reinforce the Establishment

If you’d blinked, you’d have missed it:

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday paused a new and controversial board’s work on disinformation and accepted the resignation of its leader, capping weeks of concerns about impinging on free speech rights and at times frenzied conspiracy theories about the board itself…

The Disinformation Governance Board’s director, Nina Jankowicz, wrote Wednesday that the board’s future was “uncertain,” according to a resignation letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Nomaan Merchant and Amanda Seitz, “New ‘disinformation’ board paused amid free speech questions” at Associated Press (May 18, 2022)

A recommendation as to whether the Board should continue will be offered, we are told, within 75 days.

The Washington Post knows who to blame: “How the Biden administration let right-wing attacks derail its disinformation efforts” is the headline on the story it broke.

Fox News takes issue with that:

On Wednesday conservatives on Twitter blasted Washington Post tech reporter Taylor Lorenz for blaming the stalling of the Department of Homeland Security’s “Disinformation Governance Board” on “right-wing” attacks.

Lorenz specifically charged that Nina Jankowicz, the woman who was tasked with leading the new board last month and officially resigned shortly after Lorenz’s article published, was victimized by “coordinated online attacks,” leading to a “pause” being put on the initiative.

Lorenz wrote, “Jankowicz’s experience is a prime example of how the right-wing Internet apparatus operates, where far-right influencers attempt to identify a target, present a narrative and then repeat mischaracterizations across social media and websites with the aim of discrediting and attacking anyone who seeks to challenge them.”

Gabriel Hays, “WaPo piece crushed for blaming ‘right-wing’ for derailing Disinfo Board: ‘Slobbering defense of power’” at Fox News (May 18, 2022)

According to other sources, the issues were a bit broader than that.

But the new board was hampered from the start by questions about its purpose, funding and work with an uneven rollout that further confused its mission. Mayorkas struggled to answer questions about the board’s work in front of lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this month.

Mayorkas made the decision to pause the board in response to the cumulative negative reaction and growing concerns that it was distracting from the department’s other work on disinformation, according to two department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Nomaan Merchant and Amanda Seitz, “New ‘disinformation’ board paused amid free speech questions” at Associated Press (May 18, 2022)

The officials also claim that the Board’s work was “grossly and intentionally mischaracterized” as an attack on free speech.

An internet email symbol and a group of people are separated by a red prohibitory symbol No. restrictions on access to the global Internet. Censorship. Information control, society isolation policy

And there, as it happens, they are drifting off into Neverland. Any such Board will always be an attack on free speech. And it can never be anything else.

As comedian Bill Maher put it: “to robust applause from his liberal-leaning audience. ‘Government should not be involved in deciding what’s true and not true.’” (Based Politics)

As was evident from the deplatforming and Cancellation of many physicians who proposed alternative strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, most current controversies are not clear divisions between True and Untrue or Right and Wrong. Government will have no choice but to simply reinforce the Establishment whereas the progress of science, for example, depends on challenging the Establishment frequently.

Canadian commentator Mark Steyn, who had been through this sort of thing in Canada fifteen years ago, puts it like this:

“The problem is there are an ever-expanding range of issues that are added to the list … [like] in United States, where disagreeing with the official state position on, for example, a new coronavirus that nobody heard of a year ago and nobody knows anything about — just disagreeing with officialdom now is forbidden.

“That is why the weasel phrase ‘disinformation’ — what is the information you are dissing? It’s official information. Ministry of Information information.”

Mark Steyn, “Mark Steyn slams ‘weasel phrase’ of ‘disinformation’ as NY Times begs Biden to appoint ‘reality czar’” at Fox News Media

The Establishment changed its own collective mind on a number of issues during the pandemic. So the net effect of a Disinformation Board would be to make it difficult for anyone but the Establishment to comment on anything.

Elon Musk pitched in on the controversy when Jankowicz suggested allowing “verified accounts to ‘edit’ Twitter and add context to others’ tweets” — in other words, Blue Checks at Twitter should be allowed to act as censors:

“Verified people can essentially start to ‘edit’ Twitter the same sort of way that Wikipedia is, so they can add context to certain tweets,” Nina Jankowicz said during a Zoom meeting, noting that she’s verified, but there are “a lot of people who shouldn’t be verified who aren’t, you know, legit.”

Paul Best, “Elon Musk criticizes pitch by ‘disinformation czar’ to allow verified Twitter accounts to edit others’ tweets” at MSN (May 12, 2022)

Musk, who may soon own Twitter, described her idea as “disconcerting.”

Indeed, her suggestion is precisely the problem that critics like Maher and Steyn have warned about. The story is developing.

You may also wish to read: “Disinformation”: Do we really need a “Reality Czar”? Canada dodged a bullet in 2014. The United States will not be so lucky if it adopts Big Tech’s new proposals against “disinformation” online. Proposals to entrench a reality czar are a one-way ticket to an authoritarian state that withers intellectually because only the approved people are allowed to circulate opinions. (Denyse O’Leary)

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Immortal Mind: A Neurosurgeon’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

New U.S. Disinformation Board on Hold Amid Flak From Both Sides