Disinformation Governance Board Is Officially Killed – But What Comes Next?
In a rare and perhaps fleeting victory for those trying to slow America’s slide into dystopian authoritarianism, the Department of Homeland Security on Monday said it has concluded “there is no need for a Disinformation Governance Board.”
The news comes just under three months after the existence of the board first came to public attention. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced its creation at an April 27 House budget hearing — igniting a firestorm of opposition to what critics derisively labelled the “Ministry of Truth.”
In addition to countering misinformation encouraging migration to the United States, the board was also to be charged with combatting Russian disinformation threats ahead of the midterm election, and countering what the Associated Press credulously called “an aggressive disinformation campaign around the war in Ukraine.”
Particularly to the libertarian and conservative right, which was already being pummeled by social media censorship, the launch of a federal truth-monitoring entity — within the Department of Homeland Security of all places — was chilling to say the least. The invocation of a supposed Russia disinformation threat compounded the alarm, especially when that threat was put in the context of wars and elections.
Not to mention the sheer hypocrisy: DHS and other U.S. government entities had themselves subjected the American people to an enormous election disinformation campaign, in the form of baseless accusations that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian officials to steal the 2016 election.
In a May hearing, Senator Rand Paul gave Mayorkas an excellent encapsulation of what was so wrong with the creation of the board:
“Do you know who is the greatest propagator of disinformation in the history of the world? US government.” pic.twitter.com/GfLo0WumlM
— The Sirius Report (@thesiriusreport) May 5, 2022
With Republican legislators working to defund it and the Biden administration straining to defend it, the board was put “on pause” in mid-May, with the final nail in its coffin coming with the Monday announcement, which was an interim conclusion of the Disinformation Best Practices and Safeguard Committee. That group which will issue its final draft report to the Homeland Security Advisory Council in early August.
The fact that a “Disinformation Best Practices and Safeguard Committee” exists certainly takes some of the satisfaction out of the news, as it signals the government’s continued interest in policing discourse. We warily await the board’s final recommendations.
Of course, no obituary of this Orwellian agency would be complete without highlighting the woman who led it for less than a month before resigning on May 18: Nina Jankowicz, a self-proclaimed “Disinformation Mary Poppins” whose exceedingly cringy TikTok videos reinforced many Americans’ feeling that they’re living in an episode of Black Mirror:
Meet new Biden’s head of Ministry of Truth, Nina Jankowicz, who is in charge of defining the “truth” and “fakes” in the US. On TikTok, she calls herself the “disinformation Mary Poppins” #NinaJankowicz #MinistryOfTruth #USA pic.twitter.com/ZTW6M6KbIt
— Bishnu Maharaj (@bishnu_maharaj) April 29, 2022
As if her over-the-top Hollywood-villain personality weren’t enough, Jankowicz had herself amplified disinformation about the Russiagate hoax. It was also concerning that she would be charged with countering purported misinformation about the Russia-Ukraine war, given she had previously provided strategic communications guidance to the Ukrainian government.
Jankowicz had even ridiculed the notion that anti-conservative bias exists on major social media platforms:
Here’s Nina Jankowicz, the Mary Poppins lady over at the “Ministry of Truth,” claiming that “liberal voices are being silenced” on social media. Now that’s some Grade A gaslighting right there. 🤣 pic.twitter.com/OOjCOzU5G9
— Scott Morefield (@SKMorefield) May 6, 2022
On Monday, the same day her Disinformation Governance Board was removed from life support, Jankowicz posted a letter to Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley, blaming them for “personally attack[ing her] in an outsized manner.” In doing so, she said, they fueled a backlash against her that subjected her and her family to harassment.
In what feels like projection, the “Mary Poppins of Misinformation” actually chided the senators for “continuing to amplify this absurd caricature of me.”