The Biden Administration’s ‘Disinformation Governance Board’

Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas informed a congressional committee of the Biden Administration’s decision to establish a “disinformation governance board” within the agency.  Here’s the write up by HS Today.

Conservatives and civil libertarians are screaming blue murder and with good reason.  At this point, we don’t know what the board is, what it will be tasked with doing, what its powers will be or how it will make its decisions, all of which portend governmental overreach.  The DGB looks like more of what we became so familiar with during the COVID pandemic - an unconstitutional assumption of power plus mission creep writ large.  And that’s the good news.

First, what does the DHS mean by “governance” and “disinformation.”  Does “governance” mean censorship?  What will the board do with speech it considers disinformation?  What is “disinformation?”  The department doesn’t define either term, but a paper entitled “Combatting Targeted Disinformation Campaigns,” by the Analytics Exchange Program, that’s part of DHS does:

[T]he purpose of disinformation is to mislead.  Disinformation is information created and distributed with the express purpose of causing harm.

So, is the board’s brief to attack false information intended to cause harm?  Seemingly, but there’s more, much more.  From the very first sentence of the HS Today article, we learn that,

A new board at the Department of Homeland Security will focus on countering misinformation and disinformation, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers today…

Ah, so, despite its title, the board’s target isn’t simply “disinformation,” but “misinformation” too.  What is “misinformation?”  The AEP again:

False information that is shared with others without the intent to mislead can be defined as misinformation.

Therefore, the new board will target both information that’s false and intended to mislead as well as what’s published in the honest belief that it’s true.  That raises the question “what is ‘false information?’”  Not long ago, the idea that the COVID-19 virus originated in a Chinese laboratory was considered false information, only later to be found very possibly true.  And we only learned that because scientific inquiries into its origin were made public.  Would the new board have prevented that?  Is the board’s job to cement in place for all time certain truths and brand all contrary information as false?  Good questions all, but none are answered by the DHS.

Still, the DGB will address only dis- and mis-information, right?  Wrong.

The HS Today article links to a February 7th National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin that states:

The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors.

That strongly suggests that the new board will add “mal-information” to its list of problematical speech.  What is “mal-information?”  Again, the AEP tells us.

Malinformation is genuine information, typically private or revealing, that may be distributed in a campaign to cause harm to a person’s reputation in furtherance of the campaign’s objective.

Mal-information, then, also has another name – the truth.  It’s a true message that “may” be used to harm a person’s reputation, but may not be.  What if the person has a good reputation that’s undeserved?  Will the board protect that reputation against the truth?

At this point, the DGB is the proverbial camel with its nose under the tent.  How long will it be before the smelly beast moves in permanently?

Beyond that, is the new board constitutional?  If so, will it behave constitutionally? 

To begin with, by what authority was this board formed?  The original law that created the DHS says nothing about such a board or about combatting speech, particularly factually-accurate speech.  So the first question the Biden Administration needs to answer is where its authority came from.  With any luck, it’ll have to do so in court.

Then there’s the problem of vagueness.  The existing definitions of relevant terms are certainly too vague to pass constitutional muster.  How does a board bureaucrat go about ascertaining the intention of a speaker?  How can the department target speech that’s factually true?  How does it decide what speech is false?  Is what is true and what is false always clear?  This board’s job looks to be far outside any legitimate delegation of power to the department.

Perhaps most importantly, what will the DGB do when it locates speech it considers dis-, mis- or mal-information?  I suspect even the Biden Administration knows it can’t censor it outright.  But I also suspect it won’t have to. 

My guess is that this board exists for at least one major reason – to provide social media platforms and the MSM a ready-made excuse for their own pre-existing and very well-known censorship proclivities.  The DGB will post alerts about certain information it considers beyond the pale and Facebook, Google, Apple, YouTube, et al, plus the NYT, CNN, et al can then censor all speech relevant to the issue.  And of course they, being private entities, can extend their censorship far beyond the board’s stated concerns.  Thus can a governmental entity, using willing private actors, successfully censor.

So much for the good news.

Now, what are the chances of the DGB being used evenhandedly?  My guess is they’re less than that of snow in my backyard in August.  That stench on the wind is the distinctive odor of government both unconstitutionally arrogating power to itself and using that power on behalf of one set of ideas and against all others.

More on that next time.

 

 

   

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