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DHS suspends misinformation board after weeks of GOP criticism

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday suspended its new disinformation governance board and the director of its board will step down, after weeks of criticism from Republicans and questions about whether the board would trespass. on the rights to freedom of expression.

Although the council has not been officially closed, it will be reviewed by members of a DHS advisory council which is expected to make recommendations in 75 days. Nina Jankowicz, chosen to lead the council, wrote in her resignation letter that the council’s future was “uncertain”, according to her letter, obtained by The Associated Press.

Federal and state agencies treat misinformation as a threat to national security. But the new board has been hampered from the start by questions about its purpose and an uneven deployment that has further blurred its mission. The phrase “Ministry of Truth” – a reference to George Orwell’s “1984” – has been repeatedly lined up in discussions on the council.

Some of the attacks on Jankowicz used sexist and anti-Semitic slurs. A Fox News personality recently asked if Jankowicz should have agreed to lead the board during her pregnancy.

The Washington Post first reported that the council would be suspended.

Conservative pundits and right-wing media have often focused directly on Jankowicz, a Russian disinformation researcher appointed to head the board. Critics pointed to statements by Jankowicz that questioned the provenance of a laptop believed to belong to Hunter Biden, the president’s eldest son, and replayed a TikTok video she recorded about the misinformation on the air. a song from “Mary Poppins”.

DHS officials described the council as an internal task force to study definitions of misinformation across the department. They did not explain why they named Jankowicz, who is not his lawyer, given his public profile.

Jankowicz’s supporters have accused the department of not doing enough to protect her from online trolls and attacks.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Board’s mischaracterizations have become a distraction from the Department’s vital work, and indeed, together with recent events globally and nationally, epitomize why it is needed,” wrote Jankowicz in his resignation letter.

Russia has tried to influence the last two presidential elections by spreading false stories and using social media to stoke divisions in American society over issues such as race and the coronavirus pandemic. He continued to spread false and misleading accounts of his invasion of Ukraine. US intelligence officials have also accused China and Iran of peddling disinformation to Americans.

Disinformation experts have warned that the controversy around the board could harm existing efforts to identify and stop the spread of false narratives about the election and burning issues in American society. DHS has several ongoing programs to combat misinformation, including efforts by the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to debunk allegations of voter fraud.

Some have speculated that the board was developed by DHS in response to billionaire Elon Musk’s plan to buy Twitter, prompted in part by a desire to relax the platform’s rules regarding tweets. Others made false claims that Jankowicz planned to edit tweets from daily Twitter users.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the creation of the council in late April, saying it would highlight Russian misinformation and misrepresentations that encourage people to migrate to the US-Mexico border. The advice was immediately controversial, with Republican lawmakers questioning whether President Joe Biden’s administration was trying to control the narratives it opposed.

Senior Republicans on two key congressional oversight committees said they had a “complete lack of information about this new initiative.” And Mayorkas has been repeatedly attacked overboard in recent appearances on Capitol Hill. Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, told Mayorkas the council was a “terrible idea” that “communicates to the world that we are going to spread propaganda in our own country.”

DHS also faced the prospect of a lawsuit. Twenty Republican attorneys general, led by Jason Miyares of Virginia, threatened Mayorkas with legal action “unless you go back now and immediately disband this Orwellian Disinformation Governance Council,” Miyares said in a statement.



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