Poorly Conceived Biden Disinformation Board Put on Pause

Nina Jankowicz works in a press room at Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s campaign headquarters during the first round of voting on March 31, 2019, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: Pete Kiehart/Redux

A Biden administration initiative meant to combat disinformation online — but which seemed poorly thought out from the beginning — is in limbo.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the initiative, run by the Department of Homeland Security and formally known as the Disinformation Governance Board, is being put on hold in the face of relentless (but eminently predictable) attacks, largely but not exclusively from the right. Its leader, Nina Jankowicz, resigned on Wednesday.

Soon after the Board was announced only three weeks ago, it became a lightning rod for conservative commentators and lawmakers, who took to calling it the “Ministry of Truth” and went after Jankowicz, a researcher and writer, portraying her as hopelessly biased against Republicans and their allies. The Board was meant to be limited in scope, focusing on Russian disinformation and false rumors about migrant routes to America, among other things. And with very little operational power, it could not actually remove any content from the internet. Nevertheless, it quickly became a staple of discussion on Fox News and in right-wing outlets, who framed the Board as an attempt by unelected bureaucrats to regulate the flow of information in America. Critics noted Jankowicz’s coziness with some liberals, her iffy comments on the Hunter Biden laptop story (whose ill-conceived censorship at the hands of Facebook and Twitter remains a hot conservative topic), and her endorsement of the largely debunked Steele dossier.

Many of the people who initially led the charge against the Board are far-right conspiracy theorists, whose fidelity to facts is almost nonexistent. But the Board drew plenty of criticism from the left and other quarters, too. And presenting anyone from the government as an arbiter of truth in 2022 — much less defining “disinformation” in a way that more than 40 percent of the population would agree with — seemed doomed from the get-go. It didn’t help that the Department of Homeland Security failed to clearly explain the Board’s mission from the beginning, letting its critics fill in the gaps — or that the Biden administration somehow failed to anticipate the kind of backlash coming its way. As the Post reports, Homeland Security officials seemed caught off guard by the level of vitriol directed at Jankowicz (a familiar pattern for Democrats dealing with well-organized opposition), and often responded haltingly and ineffectively.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department said that “the Board has been grossly and intentionally mischaracterized: It was never about censorship or policing speech in any manner. It was designed to ensure we fulfill our mission to protect the homeland, while protecting core constitutional rights.”

Poorly Conceived Biden Disinformation Board Put on Pause