The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) would have served as a central clearinghouse to respond to matters the government unilaterally determines to be mis-, dis- or mal-information (MDM), and planned to coordinate efforts to leverage ties with social media platforms to enable the removal of user content, according to records obtained by Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). The senators are now calling on DHS to turn over additional materials related to the DGB and DHS efforts to partner with big tech platforms to enforce its agenda.
“The First Amendment of the Constitution was designed precisely so that the government could not censor opposing viewpoints – even if those viewpoints were false. DHS should not in any way seek to enlist the private sector to curb or silence opposing viewpoints. It is therefore imperative for DHS to provide additional clarity regarding its policies and procedures for identifying and addressing ‘MDM,’ as well as its efforts to ‘operationalize’ public-private partnerships and the steps it is taking to ensure that it does not infringe on the constitutional rights of American citizens,” the senators wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The senators’ letter references internal DHS records provided through protected whistleblower disclosures that illustrate how the DGB was designed to exert powerful influence over the government’s efforts to crack down on disinformation in areas where there are “clear, objective facts.” However, it remains unclear how DHS defines “clear, objective facts.” Documents show that DHS was not just focused on foreign disinformation but also issues at the heart of longstanding political debate such as theories about the validity of elections, the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines, and the efficacy of wearing masks.
Despite her long and well-documented history of embracing and spreading disinformation aimed at undermining Republican political figures, including President Trump, Nina Jankowicz was tapped to be the DGB’s executive director – a move that whistleblowers allege could have been because of her connections to Twitter executives. Documents confirm that Jankowicz knew Twitter’s head of policy and head of site integrity.
“Given the significant coordinating role the Department envisioned for the DGB, the consequences of installing Nina Jankowicz, a known trafficker of foreign disinformation and liberal conspiracy theories, as the DGB’s first Executive Director, would have been a disaster,” the senators wrote.
Following public scrutiny, Jankowicz resigned from the board, which DHS has reportedly “paused.”
In the letter, the senators raised a number of questions regarding how DHS determines what matters to prioritize. They are also seeking records related to communications regarding DHS’ efforts to enlist the cooperation of social media platforms to advance its policy goals.
The letter and internal records provided to the senators is available HERE.