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Looks like it’s time to say goodbye to the government’s Disinformation Governance Board.
A truly horrible idea made worse by the clumsy attempt to sell it, the board became a symbol of federal censorship and intimidation.
And now the Homeland Security board has been put on “pause,” which is Washington parlance because we want to file away this thing that’s killing us and we hope everyone will forget about it so we can quietly put it down. The board, which has been in existence for just three weeks, is suspended for a review that will last more than two months.
It hardly helped that board director Nina Jankowicz has a long history of liberal advocacy, from ripping apart Elon Musk’s planned Twitter takeover to dismissing the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 as a “Russian influence operation.” and a “fairy tale”. Besides, who needs federal officials to define what “disinformation” is?
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The Washington Post broke the story yesterday:
“On Monday, DHS decided to close the board, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. By Tuesday morning, Jankowicz had drafted a letter of resignation in response to the board’s dissolution.”
But after an urgent call, DHS officials “gave him the option to stay, even as the department’s work was suspended due to the backlash he faced, according to multiple people with knowledge of the call. Task forces within the DHS focused on my -, misinformation and misinformation have been suspended.” It is unclear if she will stay.
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The ominous sounding board was a liability that could not be defended. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admitted that he mishandled it and that the purpose of the board was to collect best practices and combat the lies being fed to migrants.
Jankowicz, who has been silenced by the department, took to Facebook to say she has been bombarded with sexual taunts and death threats and has been described as “a scheming, ugly, pregnant, fascist, traitorous Jewish woman.”
Horrible stuff, but that brings me to the way the story is framed.
The Post article is by Taylor Lorenz, who is a controversial figure online, and although she is a good reporter, I have to say that her story is totally biased towards Jankowicz and the currently frozen board. She portrays the entire episode as the damage inflicted by the conservative media.
The headline gives it away: “How the Biden Administration Allowed Right-Wing Attacks to Derail Its Disinformation Efforts.”
Jankowicz has been “subjected to a relentless barrage of harassment and abuse, while unchecked misrepresentations of his work continue to go viral,” the article says, “a prime example of how the right-wing Internet apparatus operates.”
That matches the administration’s line, a DHS spokesperson said: “Nina Jankowicz has been the subject of vile and unwarranted personal attacks and physical threats. In congressional hearings and in media interviews, the secretary has repeatedly defended her as eminently qualified and underscored the importance of the department’s disinformation work, and will continue to do so.”
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But does anyone really believe that the administration would back down from a defensible program just because of criticism from conservatives?
Virtually anyone with a public platform is affected on Twitter and other social media apps, even more so when that person is in the news.
Taylor Lorenz knows this better than anyone, because she said in a tearful interview with MSNBC that the vicious online attacks against her made her contemplate suicide.
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And Lorenz has come under fire for exposing, and misleading, the previously anonymous woman who runs @LibsofTikTok, saying, as the headline put it, that she was “secretly fueling the right-wing outrage machine.” That also brought the former Brooklyn real estate agent waves of online abuse.
So is it okay to criticize a private citizen who didn’t want his identity known, but not a federal government official with actual authority?
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The bottom line for me: It’s a toxic reality that people get smeared online, but that doesn’t mean the original criticism, from the right or any other direction, is wrong. Blaming the people who report and comment on the news for the subsequent social media attacks, as if they deliberately caused them, is simply a mistake and a convenient diversion from the criticism itself.
The Disinformation Board went offline due to botched implementation and powers so vague that the Biden administration found it no longer worth defending.