DHS group to deputize Big Tech as speech police is wrong

ben weingarten
Conservative Opinion

Ben Weingarten

Federalist Senior Contributor; Claremont Institute Fellow
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The Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) is a working group within the Department of Homeland Security with a stated function to “disseminate guidance to DHS agencies on combating misinformation, malinformation, and disinformation that threatens the security of the homeland.” However, only three weeks after its creation, the task force — led by the controversial Nina Jankowiczwas paused. Straight Arrow News contributor Ben Weingarten explains why the DGB was such a poor idea to begin with:

Recently-released documents obtained from a whistleblower by Senators Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley demonstrate the danger posed by the “paused” but by no means abolished DGB, and the regime that created it. The documents show the intent of the Deep State to deputize Big Tech on its behalf as America’s unofficial domestic speech police, violating the First Amendment by proxy

The documents also illustrate the duplicity of those who claimed the DGB was another government task force with little power or ambition, raising questions about what else our national security apparatus is doing in pursuit of its War on Wrongthink.

When the American people first found out about the DGB and grew outraged over the fact the Biden administration had created a Ministry of Truth, and put a serial spewer of disinformation in charge of it, it strained to suggest the DGB would combat disinformation threatening the homeland from foreign actors—notwithstanding the DGB was housed in the domestic security apparatus. 

It claimed to target rumors being spread by traffickers supposedly lying about America’s open borders, or Russian disinformation propagated on the heels of the coming midterm elections. But the planning documents for the DGB tell an entirely different story. 

In a memo to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas titled “Organizing DHS Efforts to Counter Disinformation,” DHS officials wrote that disinformation threatens homeland security, beginning with two types of it: “Conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections” and “Disinformation related to the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines or the efficacy of masks.” The drafters said they were concerned that “domestic violent extremists” would amplify phony narratives based on this disinformation to drive “racially or ethnically motivated and anti-government/anti-authority violence.”

Recently-released documents obtained from a whistleblower by Senators Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley demonstrate the danger posed by the “paused” but by no means abolished DGB, and the regime that created it. The documents show the intent of the Deep State to deputize Big Tech on its behalf as America’s unofficial domestic speech police, violating the First Amendment by proxy

The documents also illustrate the duplicity of those who claimed the DGB was another government task force with little power or ambition, raising questions about what else our national security apparatus is doing in pursuit of its War on Wrongthink.

When the American people first found out about the DGB and grew outraged over the fact the Biden administration had created a Ministry of Truth, and put a serial spewer of disinformation in charge of it, it strained to suggest the DGB would combat disinformation threatening the homeland from foreign actors—notwithstanding the DGB was housed in the domestic security apparatus. 

It claimed to target rumors being spread by traffickers supposedly lying about America’s open borders, or Russian disinformation propagated on the heels of the coming midterm elections. But the planning documents for the DGB tell an entirely different story. 

In a memo to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas titled “Organizing DHS Efforts to Counter Disinformation,” DHS officials wrote that disinformation threatens homeland security, beginning with two types of it: “Conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections” and “Disinformation related to the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines or the efficacy of masks.” The drafters said they were concerned that “domestic violent extremists” would amplify phony narratives based on this disinformation to drive “racially or ethnically motivated and anti-government/anti-authority violence.”

So in the memo, they called for DHS to “respond” to disinformation in “areas where there are clear, objective facts (i.e., medical evidence regarding COVID; factual information about elections administration and security…).” In other words, clearly this DHS counter-disinformation effort was developed with the intent to combat dissenting domestic views from the regime’s favored ones on the kinds of highly contentious and consequential issues demanding public debate–and on which our authorities have persistently spread Official Narratives that have proven false, misleading, or incomplete.

The document recommended several models for countering disinformation, including creating a DGB, its primary recommendation, which DHS Secretary Mayorkas would accept. The memo parallels DHS’s National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin from Feb. 2022, months after the memo was produced but before DHS announced the creation of the DGB, as well as prior bulletins, suggesting that among the greatest contributors to America’s “heightened threat environment” was an “online environment filled with…mis- dis- and mal-information [MDM],” including on COVID-19 and election integrity. 

The memo flows naturally from the Biden administration’s National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, which too focuses on combatting “dangerous conspiracy theories” and “disinformation and misinformation” that undermine “faith in government.” 

Now that strategy also called for the feds to collaborate with, among others, technology companies “to address[] terrorist content online” and “counter terrorists’ abuse of Internet–based communications platforms to recruit others to engage in violence”—efforts that become more chilling when dissent from regime orthodoxy is treated as equivalent to terrorist danger.

The DGB serves the exact kind of role contemplated by the strategy. Its charter, released in the Grassley-Hawley document trove, calls for the board to “support and coordinate…MDM work with other department agencies, the private sector, and non-governmental actors.” 

Among them? It seems Big Tech. Notes prepared in advance of a meeting between DHS officials and several Twitter executives seemingly planned for April 2022 show that DHS planned “to discuss operationalizing public-private partnerships between DHS and Twitter,” and ways “the Department could be helpful to Twitter’s counter-MDM efforts.” 

During the meeting, DHS officials contemplated “inform[ing] Twitter executives about DHS work on MDM, including the creation of the Disinformation Governance Board and its analytic exchange, and the Department’s ongoing DVE work.”

The notes indicate DHS was also planning to brief Twitter on the “heightened threat environment”—channeling the Feb. 2022 threat bulletin—driven in part by the “proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions.”

According to Sens. Grassley and Hawley, internal DHS memoranda also show that the notion that the DGB would be coordinating with social media companies on MDM, with DHS believing this could influence their “content moderation” policies, but then expect platforms to operate completely independently and of their own volition, simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

It’s particularly unbelievable when one considers that for months, Biden administration officials from the president, to his press secretary, surgeon general, and now even his climate czar had and have been calling for or indicating that they already have been pressing Big Tech to censor Wrongthink and Wrongthinkers. 

The desire to harness this power of Big Tech might explain in part why members of the Deep State are so hostile to seeing its players broken up.

In any event, its clear these whistleblower documents belie the notion that the DGB was not “operational,” just as they belie the idea it would be externally-focused.

Given Sec. Mayorkas’s deception on these matters, as well as on basic ones about when the board was established, and the fact that another document in the trove seems to be draft legislation sponsored by DHS that would have created a “Rumor Control Program” to counter MDM, the seeming duplicity and disturbing ambition can only lead one to wonder what else DHS is up to in pursuit of a broader “domestic counterterrorism” effort that has put even concerned parents in the Deep State’s crosshairs.

The Biden administration has indicated that despite the “pause”—but not cancellation—of the DGB, that “D.H.S. is still going to continue the [DGB’s] work.”

Those aghast at the weaponization of the regime against its critics must demand every dimension of the War on Wrongthink be wholly exposed, as Sens. Grassley and Hawley have started to do, and taken apart root and branch.

Killing an as yet undead DGB is necessary, but it’s a wholly insufficient remedy for overcoming the cancer that is our regime’s jihad against dissent.