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Ex-head of DHS disinformation board warns the US is ‘in a really bleak situation’

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

  • Nina Jankowicz decried the demise of a government board tasked with investigating disinformation.
  • Jankowicz, who was director of the board, said “we’re in a really bleak situation here in this country.”
  • Conservatives and some civil liberties groups raised questions about the DHS board before it was “paused.”

The former head of a now defunct federal agency board tasked with confronting propaganda warns that the spread of disinformation poses a national security risk to the US and decried the lack of a “mature” discussion on the subject.

“I think we’re in a really bleak situation here in this country,” Nina Jankowicz told The New York Times in an interview published Wednesday morning about the Department of Homeland Security board’s demise.

The Biden Administration sparked a conservative firestorm in April when it announced the formation of the Disinformation Governance Board, a group within DHS that would coordinate the department’s response to false information intended to deceive people. 

There were concerns that this board would slap a disinfo label on American political commentators, especially those in the US far-right who have pushed baseless election fraud theories that failed in courts.

Beyond the US, Russian disinformation has been a particular concern.

Moscow has for years tried to spread lies about the US’ investment in Ukrainian biomedical facilities, a claim that received renewed attention after Russia’s invasion. The State Department has recently accused the Kremlin of spreading disinformation about the global food crisis that the invasion sparked.

Jankowicz, a noted expert in disinformation, was named head of the board.

“The right recognizes it is a way to whip up people in a furor,” Jankowicz told the Times. “The problem is there are very real national security issues here, and not being able to talk about this in a mature way is a real disservice to the country.”

Fox News pundits and some Republican lawmakers assailed the board and misleadingly compared it to George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth.” In reality, the board didn’t really have the power to do much beyond flagging accounts they concluded were false. But the notion of a federal watchdog trying to sift truth from falsehood led to concern among civil liberties groups like the ACLU. In May, the board was put on “pause” and Jankowicz formally resigned. 

Jankowicz herself became the subject of intense ire.

Some of it poked fun at her past TikToks where she rewrote the words to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with a disinformation theme. As The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz previously pointed out, the harassment went further than that and included misleading suggestions that Jankowicz was just trying to get rich.

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