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Homeland security scraps disinformation board attacked by Republicans

Homeland security scraps disinformation board attacked by Republicans
The US Capitol building in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, 21 September 2021. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg)

The Department of Homeland Security has disbanded a board established to counter false information after Republicans assailed it as a vehicle to censor conservative viewpoints. 

The department said in a statement on Wednesday night that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had “terminated the Disinformation Governance Board and rescinded its charter”. 

Mayorkas, according to the statement, had followed the recommendation of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which voted hours earlier to dissolve the board.

Shortly after it was created earlier this year, the board became the latest flashpoint in a debate between Republicans who view countering false information as a subjective attack by liberals on free speech and Democrats who regard combating disinformation as imperative to protecting US electoral systems and national security.

Republican lawmakers singled out the board’s executive director, Nina Jankowicz, who had been a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Centre, for criticism. She later resigned.

The DHS held off on the board’s activities, saying that it would give the Advisory Council 75 days to review how the department could combat disinformation most effectively without impeding free speech or privacy. The council is a bipartisan group of outside experts, including from the business community, non-profit organisations, and academia, that advises Mayorkas.

Even though the board should be dissolved, advisers said it is critical for DHS to continue combating disinformation through existing avenues.

An advisory council subcommittee pointed to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Iran’s interference in the 2020 presidential election through state media and social media as examples of aggressive information operations that DHS has a responsibility to combat. The subcommittee also singled out China. BM

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