Homeland Security Once Again Demonstrates Its Own Incompetence, ‘Pauses’ Orwellian Named Disinfo Board
from the how-to-do-everything-wrong,-the-dhs-way dept
All of this was easily predictable for, well, basically anyone. The already Orwellian-named Department of Homeland Security last month announced the even more Orwellian-named Disinformation Governance Board, with no details, no explanation, and no nothing, other than naming a somewhat controversial researcher to lead it. We called out just how ridiculous the whole thing was at the time, for a variety of reasons, but just to recap:
- In theory, a government commission to better understand the nature and flow of disinformation and how to counter it could be a useful thing, but the details absolutely matter. Any attempt to actually limit protected speech (and, yes, disinformation is protected speech) would be an obvious 1st Amendment violation.
- Launching anything around disinformation without explaining, in great detail, all of those important details just leads the field wide open to, well, disinformation to flood in and fill the gaps. Which is exactly what happened. Tons of people — some with good motivations, but plenty with laughably bad motivations — immediately filled the void with claims that this board was about censoring speech, again, something that would be unconstitutional, if true, but which the failure of DHS to explain itself meant that it was open to speculation.
- Whoever decided to name the damn thing the Disinformation Governance Board deserves to be fired, and should never have anything to do with disinformation ever again. Everything about the name screams that it would be about controlling speech.
In the weeks that followed, DHS continued to insist that everyone screaming at them were getting it all wrong, but then refused to ever explain what the board was going to do. Once again, this is like step one in countering disinformation: knowing that if official sources refuse to explain things, conspiracy theories and nonsense will always step in to fill in the void.
I am still flabbergasted that the people setting up a board about disinformation didn’t understand or expect any of this.
Of course, if the purpose of the board was actually to educate the DHS itself on its own complete lack of comprehension about disinformation, maybe that would have been useful, because it’s now quite obvious that DHS was completely incompetent here and in way over its head. Of course, this is the DHS we’re talking about and “completely incompetent” and “in way over its head” are descriptors that can be applied quite frequently to the Department over the past two decades of its existence.
Either way, the Disinformation Governance Board is now on pause, and, even in trying to walk back the project, DHS has flubbed basically everything yet again. The whole thing sounds like a clusterfuck of incompetence:
Now, just three weeks after its announcement, the Disinformation Governance Board is being “paused,” according to multiple employees at DHS, capping a back-and-forth week of decisions that changed during the course of reporting of this story. 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 Tuesday night, Jankowicz was pulled into an urgent call with DHS officials who 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. The board could still be shut down pending a review from the Homeland Security Advisory Council. On Wednesday morning, Jankowicz officially resigned from her role within the department.
Incredibly, in this Washington Post article about the Board effectively shutting down, three weeks after the Board was announced, we get the first statements from DHS finally trying to explain what the Board was supposed to do, which is the kind of thing that anyone with any understanding of anything would have, maybe, been prepared to explain on day one.
The board was created to study best practices in combating the harmful effects of disinformation and to help DHS counter viral lies and propaganda that could threaten domestic security. Unlike the “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s “1984” that became a derogatory comparison point, neither the board nor Jankowicz had any power or ability to declare what is true or false, or compel Internet providers, social media platforms or public schools to take action against certain types of speech. In fact, the board itself had no power or authority to make any operational decisions.
“The Board’s purpose has been grossly mischaracterized; it will not police speech,” the DHS spokesperson said. “Quite the opposite, its focus is to ensure that freedom of speech is protected.”
So, um, if it wasn’t designed to police speech, then WHY THE FUCK did you call it a “governance” board, and why did you not have CLEAR, DETAILED, AND THOROUGH explanations for what the board was set up to do, and what authority it had, ON DAY ONE?
Also, all of this really only served to demonstrate how DHS has no fucking clue how to counter disinformation (which, ironically, supports the reason it needed a board, not for “governance” but to educate its own ignorant self):
As she endured the attacks, Jankowicz herself was told to stay silent. After attempting to defend herself on Twitter April 27, she was told by DHS officials to not issue any further public statements, according to multiple people close to her.
Democratic lawmakers, legislative staff and other administration employees who sought to defend Jankowicz were caught flat-footed. Administration officials did not brief the relevantcongressional staff and committees ahead of the board’s launch, and members of Congress who had expressed interest in disinformation weren’t given a detailed explanation about how it would operate. A fact sheet released by DHS on May 2 did nothing to quell the outrage that had been building on the Internet, nor did it clarify much of what the board would actually be doing or Jankowicz’s role in it.
DHS staffers have also grown frustrated. With the department’s suspension of intra-departmental working groups focused on mis-, dis- and mal-information, some officials said it was an overreaction that gave too much credence to bad-faith actors. A 15-year veteran of the department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, called the DHS response to the controversy “mind-boggling.” “I’ve never seen the department react like this before,” he said.
Indeed, the rest of the WaPo article contains way more information about how to counter disinformation campaigns, including effectively detailing how incredibly, predictably incompetent DHS was in just about every move it made here.
“The irony is that Nina’s role was to come up with strategies for the department to counter this type of campaign, and now they’ve just succumbed to it themselves,” said one Hill staffer with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the issue. “They didn’t even fight, they just rolled over.”
And, of course, as the article also notes, this is going to make it that much more difficult for DHS to even educate itself to correct this kind of error, because who is going to be willing to come work for DHS to explain to it how not to get played this way when the person they brought in last time is now facing disingenuous death threats, all because of DHS’s own botched rollout?
My only complaint with the WaPo article is that it argues, incorrectly, that it was only disingenuous Trumpists who complained about the Board. That was the vocal part of it, for sure, but plenty of people who simply believe in basic civil rights, like us, complained about the setup of the board, and the lack of clear explanations of what the board was there to do, noting how it could be quite problematic, but without details, we had no idea.