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DHS stops the disinformation board; the director will resign National news

FILE – Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at a Senate meeting of the National Security Subcommittee on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Department of Homeland Security suspended its new disinformation commission on Wednesday, and its board director will resign after weeks of criticism from Republicans and questions about whether the council will violate freedom of speech.

Although the board has not been officially closed, it will be considered by members of the DHS Advisory Board, which is expected to make recommendations in 75 days. Nina Jankovic, who was elected to head the board, wrote in her resignation letter that the future of the board is “uncertain”, according to her letter received by the Associated Press.

Federal and state agencies view disinformation as a threat to national security. But the new board was hampered from the start by questions about his appointment and uneven distribution, which further confused his mission. The phrase “Ministry of Truth” – a reference to “1984” by George Orwell – has repeatedly hit the web in discussions about the board.

Sexist and anti-Semitic insults were used in some attacks on Jankovic. Fox News recently questioned whether Jankovic should have agreed to head the council during her pregnancy.

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

Conservative experts and the right-wing media often focused directly on Yankovich, a researcher on Russian disinformation named by the council’s chairman. Critics have drawn attention to Yankovich’s statements questioning the origins of Hunter Biden’s laptop, the president’s eldest son, and played a video on TikTok, which she recorded about misinformation, to the tune of a song from Mary Poppins.

DHS representatives described the council as an internal working group designed to study definitions of misinformation throughout the department. They did not explain why they chose Yankovich, who is not a lawyer and had a well-known public profile.

Yankovich’s supporters accused the agency of failing to protect it from trolls and internet attacks.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Council’s misrepresentations have distracted attention from the Department’s vital work and, indeed, along with recent developments globally and nationally, embodies why this is necessary,” Jankovic wrote in her resignation.

Russia has tried to influence the last two presidential elections by spreading false stories and using social media to stir up controversy in American society over issues such as race and the coronavirus pandemic. She continued to spread false and deceptive stories about her invasion of Ukraine. U.S. intelligence officials have also accused China and Iran of spreading misinformation to Americans.

Disinformation experts warn that controversy over the council could hurt existing efforts to identify and stop the spread of false election stories and current issues in American society. DHS has several ongoing programs to counter disinformation, including the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s efforts to debunk allegations of election fraud.

Some have suggested that the board was developed by DHS in response to billionaire Ilona Mask’s plan to buy Twitter, in part driven by a desire to loosen the platform’s rules around tweets. Others have falsely claimed that Jankovic planned to edit the tweets of regular Twitter users.

Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorcos announced the creation of the council in late April, saying it would highlight Russian disinformation and false statements urging people to migrate to the U.S.-Mexico border. The council immediately sparked controversy, and Republican lawmakers questioned whether President Joe Biden’s administration was trying to control the stories it opposed.

Senior Republicans in two key congressional oversight committees said they had “a complete lack of information about this new initiative.” And Mallorca has been repeatedly attacked from behind the board during recent performances on Capitol Hill. Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, told Mallorca that the board was a “terrible idea” that “brings to the world that we will spread propaganda in our own country.”

DHS also faced the prospect of litigation. Twenty Republican attorneys general, led by Jason Miares of Virginia, have threatened Mallorca with a lawsuit, “unless you turn back and immediately dissolve this Orwell Disinformation Management Council,” Miares said in a statement.


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