It’s been a while since I read George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be a how-to book for government officials.
But when Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee and announced that his department had created a Disinformation Governance Board (DGB), it seemed like he’d been taking notes from Orwell.
The inaptly and ineptly named department sounds like it will oversee the spread of disinformation by the government – just like Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (aka MiniTru) which works to disseminate propaganda and falsify history under the Party which rules Oceania.
But Mayorkas explained that the DGB’s goal was to combat disinformation, “to bring the resources of [DHS] together to address this threat” of “misinformation campaigns,” Fox News reported.
Mayorkas said that the DGB will be led by co-chairs Rob Silvers, undersecretary for policy, and Jennifer Gaskill, principal deputy general counsel.
Conservatives in the media and on social media flipped. Is the government supposed to decide what is truth for us?
But they started spinning even faster when Politico announced that Nina Jankowicz will head the board as executive director.
Jankowicz has written two books, How to Be a Woman Online and How to Lose the Information War. Her bio says she “is an internationally-recognized expert on disinformation and democratization.”
When the New York Post reported on the new government agency, it reminded readers that its reporters had scooped the rest of the news media when it told about documents from Hunter Biden’s laptop in in 2020. The laptop had been left at a repair shop and never collected.
But the old media, government officials and social media worked to drop that story down the memory hole.
The news outlet noted that Jankowicz “has been criticized for repeatedly casting doubt on the Post’s reporting about the laptop.” They argued that, in essence, that the new head of disinformation governance actually spread disinformation.
— New York Post (@nypost) April 28, 2022
The Post also noted that the DGB story came out just as the U.S. announced “an international ‘Declaration for the Future of the Internet’ with 50 other countries, slamming the policies of ‘authoritarian’ governments – while endorsing efforts to curb online ‘disinformation’ and ‘harassment.’”
We strongly oppose the harassment, name-calling and attacks that occur in both the media and on social media. Screaming “bigot” or “racist” or “idiot” isn’t helpful in any discussion.
At the same time, we don’t mind strong argumentation, disagreement – and even poking fun at false ideologies and bad policies. But is it our government’s job to police all of this? Seems a bit authoritarian, doesn’t it?
Speaking of humor and argumentation, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson used both when he reported on Mayorkas, the DGB and Jankowicz’ role in the agency (though maybe he could do a little less name-calling).
Oh, so one of America’s top law enforcement officers just announces to the Congress that actually we’re going to be policing what you say and everyone in the room kind of nods. “Oh, yeah, it’s totally normal.” But here’s what he didn’t say. So Mayorkas told us that disinformation is a threat to homeland security. Now he’s the head of the Department of Homeland Security, so presumably he would know since assessing threats to Homeland Security is his job, but what he didn’t tell us is how he’s defining disinformation.
He makes some good points: What counts as disinformation, and who gets to decide?
Carlson also showed a video clip of Janckowicz, from a video she posted saying, “You can just call me the Mary Poppins of disinformation.”
— Nina Jankowicz 🇺🇦🇺🇸 (@wiczipedia) February 17, 2021
Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay, indeed. The response on Twitter has not been kind.
When asked about Jankowicz and the new disinformation agency, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Any hiring decisions are up to the Department of Homeland Security, but this is a person with extensive qualifications.”
She also stated that the creation of the DGB stemmed from the previous administration, saying:
This is a continuation of work that began at the Department of Homeland Security in 2020 under former President Trump. So for anyone who is critical of it, I didn’t hear them being critical of the work under the former president, which is just interesting to note contextually.
DHS has been on a tear as it fights “disinformation” for all of us, whether we want it or not.
As The Daily Citizen reported earlier this year, DHS issued a threat about “false or misleading narratives or conspiracy theories” that “undermine trust in U.S. government institutions.”
Another DHS subagency, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security, has a Mis-, Dis-, and Malinformation team, “charged with building national resilience to mis-, dis-, and malinformation and foreign influence activities.”
The agency has even produced the Resilience Series, graphic novels which “communicates the dangers and risks associated with dis- and misinformation through fictional stories that are inspired by real-world events.”
We are certain that there are real threats to our country. But the question remains: Do we want a government agency – complete with Mary Poppins-singing “disinformation experts” and graphic novels – deciding what is true?
Or do we want the freedom to debate and argue for truth in the public arena?
Photo from Twitter.