(Updates throughout to include council vote.)
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Officials are recommending getting rid of a federal board created to counter false information after it drew fierce scrutiny from Republicans who said it would censor conservative speech.
The Disinformation Governance Board became a microcosm for a nationwide debate between Republicans who view countering false information as a subjective attack by liberals on free speech and Democrats who say fighting disinformation is imperative to protecting US electoral systems and national security.
The Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council on Wednesday voted to approve a council subcommittee’s recommendation to dissolve the board, which was announced in May to provide guardrails for the anti-disinformation work DHS had already been doing for years.
“We previously recommended to the full Council—and the Council has accepted our recommendation—that there is no need for a separate Disinformation Governance Board,” the HSAC Disinformation Best Practices and Safeguards Subcommittee reported. The report will now go to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his final say on whether to scrap the board.
About two weeks after the board was announced, DHS put it on pause to review how the department can combat disinformation without impeding free speech or privacy. The board had quickly drawn the ire of Republicans who deemed it Orwellian and un-American.
Even though the board should be dissolved, advisers said it is critical for DHS to continue combating disinformation through existing avenues.
“To address its Congressionally mandated missions, the Department needs the ability to identify, analyze, and, where necessary, address certain incorrect information, especially but not limited to information that tends to undermine public safety and malicious efforts by foreign governments and foreign actors to manipulate the American public,” the report says.
The subcommittee pointed to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and Iran’s interference in the 2020 presidential election through state media and social media as examples of aggressive information operations that DHS has a responsibility to combat. The subcommittee also singled out China.
DHS was advised to bolster its technical capabilities to analyze trends in disinformation content and understand the technology being used to propagate disinformation, such as videos in which people’s faces and bodies are altered so they appear to be someone else, also known as “deepfakes.”
The Office of Intelligence and Analysis should become the department’s principal channel for heeding disinformation warnings from the US intelligence community and other entities, advisers said. That office should then notify and provide guidance to other department operations on significant threats. The report cited as examples of such threats domestic violent extremist disinformation and dangerously inaccurate health advice.
To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Curi in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org