Conservatives who oppose the controversial Disinformation Governance Board doubt the Biden administration's claims that it is narrowly focused on foreign threats and not censorship, saying the board would then be housed by a different federal agency.
The Biden administration says the Department of Homeland Security’s new disinformation board is focused on noncontroversial foreign threats that both parties agree should be combated, but conservatives are fiercely skeptical.
Republicans see the board as a vessel for the government to determine what information is considered true and false and thereby censor conservative speech.
Some top House Republicans are even eager to threaten a government shutdown to nix the board if necessary.
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Conservatives say that if the board was genuinely focused on disinformation that directly threatens the security of the United States, including disinformation spread by foreign states such as Russia, China, and Iran or other adversaries, then the board would not be housed by Homeland Security.
“They could’ve put this board in the CIA or the State Department or [the Defense Department] if it was really foreign threat focused,” said Mike Davis, president of the Internet Accountability Project, a conservative tech advocacy group.
“The DHS is known for being domestic focused, and they put it there because no one else wanted it. And Secretary Mayorkas is a partisan who secretly wants to do the Democrats' bidding,” said Davis, the former chief counsel for nominations to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Davis added that people don’t need “Big Tech or big government” to protect them from disinformation.
The conception of disinformation itself has become a controversial and polarizing matter. Liberals say disinformation, meaning false information spread deliberately and covertly, is a threat to democracy. Conservatives, however, increasingly say that the threat of disinformation is wrongly used as a cover to censor them.
DHS says it was tasked with housing the board because it is focused on bringing together and coordinating the federal government’s multiple branches that do work related to countering disinformation, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and others.
DHS was formed in 2003 as a way to coordinate the federal government’s implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the U.S. from terrorist threats after 9/11.
The department defines disinformation as information "deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate a person, social group, organization, or country," while misinformation is "false, but not created or shared with the intention of causing harm.”
Conservatives are wary of proclamations by the Biden administration that the board will be exclusively focused on foreign threats rather than alleged domestic threats that conservatives worry could unfairly hurt them.
“They can say in theory that the board is focused on foreign threats, but there’s no particular evidence or trust for this, it could be focused on domestic threats too,” said Garrett Ventry, a former top staffer for Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) and Grassley.
“Why not put it in an agency focused exclusively on foreign threats rather than the DHS, which deals with domestic threats as well,” said Ventry, who now runs his own Republican consulting firm.
Ventry added that the Biden administration has said in the past that it would “focus on X, but Y and Z were secretly happening in the background at the same time,” which is why conservatives don’t trust the stated motives of the disinformation board.
Republicans are concerned that the board could be used to trample unfairly on free speech and police content online.
“Any government agency that wants to put out good and correct information is fine, but adjudicating what’s true and false seems to be the main purpose of this disinformation board,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) told the Washington Examiner.
“Those on the left have consistently used disinformation to suppress accurate statements by conservatives, and those in power on the board are Democratic political actors, so that’s why there’s no trust,” Bishop said.
Republicans are particularly concerned about the board being led by Nina Jankowicz, a former disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center and adviser to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry who has a history of controversial and misleading statements.
“Don’t tell me the board is about foreign threats of disinformation when you hire someone famously known for focusing on domestic disinformation,” said Ben Stout, communications director for Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO).
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“If you want to hire a political hack that will do your bidding and push a left-wing narrative, then Nina is a first-round draft pick. They should’ve hired a nonpartisan person instead to create trust,” Stout told the Washington Examiner.