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Looks like it’s time to bid a not-so-fond farewell to the government’s Disinformation Governance Board.
A truly awful idea made worse by the ham-handed attempt to sell it, the board became a symbol of federal censorship and intimidation.
And now the Homeland Security board has been put on “pause,” which is Washington-speak for we want to shelve this thing that is killing us and hope everyone forgets about it so we can quietly euthanize it. The board, which has existed for just three weeks, is being suspended for a review that will last more than two months.
It hardly helped that the board’s director, Nina Jankowicz, has a long history of liberal advocacy, from ripping Elon Musk’s planned Twitter takeover to dismissing the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 as a “Russian influence op” and “fairy tale.” What’s more, who needs federal officials defining what “disinformation” is, anyway?
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The Washington Post broke the story yesterday:
“On Monday, DHS decided to shut down the board, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. By Tuesday morning, Jankowicz had drafted a resignation letter in response to the board’s dissolution.”
But after an urgent call, DHS officials “gave her the choice to stay on, even as the department’s work was put on hold because of the backlash it faced, according to multiple people with knowledge of the call. Working groups within DHS focused on mis-, dis- and mal-information have been suspended.” It’s not clear whether she’ll stay.
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The ominous-sounding board was a liability that could not be defended. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admitted he handled it badly and that the board’s purpose was to gather best practices and combat lies being fed to migrants.
Jankowicz, who’s been silenced by the department, did take to Facebook to say she’s been barraged with sexual taunts and death threats and has been described as “a conniving, ugly, pregnant, fascist, treasonous Jewish woman.”
Awful stuff, but that brings me to the way the story is being framed.
The Post piece is by Taylor Lorenz, who’s a controversial figure online, and while she’s a good reporter, I have to say her news story is totally slanted toward Jankowicz and the currently frozen board. She portrays the entire episode as the damage inflicted by conservative media.
The headline gives it away: “How the Biden Administration Let Right-Wing Attacks Derail Its Disinformation Efforts.”
Jankowicz has been “subject to an unrelenting barrage of harassment and abuse while unchecked misrepresentations of her work continue to go viral,” the piece says, “a prime example of how the right-wing Internet apparatus operates.”
That happens to match the administration’s line, a DHS spokesperson saying: “Nina Jankowicz has been subjected to unjustified and vile personal attacks and physical threats. In congressional hearings and in media interviews, the secretary has repeatedly defended her as eminently qualified and underscored the importance of the department’s disinformation work, and he will continue to do so.”
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But does anybody really believe the administration would back off from a defensible program just because of conservative criticism?
Just about anyone with a public platform gets slimed on Twitter and other social media apps–all the more so when that person is in the news.
Taylor Lorenz knows this as well as anyone, because she said in a tearful interview to MSNBC that vicious online attacks on her made her contemplate suicide.
And Lorenz has been slammed for outing – and doxxing – the previously anonymous woman who runs @LibsofTikTok, saying, as the headline put it, that she was “secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine.” That brought the former Brooklyn real estate agent waves of online abuse as well.
So it’s all right to criticize a private citizen who didn’t want her identity known, but not a federal government official with actual authority?
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The bottom line for me: It’s a toxic reality that people get smeared online, but that doesn’t mean that the original criticism, from the right or any other direction, was wrong. To blame the people who report and comment on the news for subsequent social media attacks, as if they deliberately caused them, is just wrong-headed–and a convenient deflection from the criticism itself.
The Disinformation Board was unplugged because of a botched rollout and powers so vague that the Biden administration found it was no longer worth defending.