Department of Homeland Security seal
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How the Disinformation Governance Board spawned its own conspiracy

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, we’re talking about what the Disinformation Governance Board is, what it isn’t and why the rollout backfired big time. Plus, Apple’s in more trouble with EU antitrust regulators, and California’s anti-NDA bill spreads.

DHS’ disinfo debacle

The Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of its new Disinformation Governance Board last week, and the rollout could hardly have gone worse.

The reveal was slipped into a skim-and-you-miss-it blurb in POLITICO Playbook, and then the board’s new executive director, Nina Jankowicz, tweeted it out with little context, stoking confusion, misinformation and even outright exploitation.

The Orwellian name. The utter lack of detail. Even the timing, released smack in the midst of Elon Musk’s “free speech” crusade — all of it combined to spawn a million outraged statements and equally outraged Fox News chyrons before almost anyone even knew what this board was all about. The comparisons to “1984” flooded in.

“Those criticisms are precisely the opposite” of what the board will do, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during a CNN interview Sunday. In reality, the board is mainly a bureaucratic exercise at DHS, according to a source who’s been in conversations with DHS about it.

  • DHS has a ton of sub-agencies (ICE, CBP, USCIS, to name a few). All of them have been working in silos on ways to counter disinformation in different areas for years.
  • DHS now needs to know who’s doing what and, importantly, if they’re doing it in a way that doesn’t infringe on people’s free speech rights and privacy.
  • Mayorkas emphasized the board has “no operational authority.”

But the big, noisy announcement was ultimately self-defeating. Even Mayorkas acknowledged Sunday, “I think we probably could have done a better job communicating what it does and does not do.”

  • “If you take any action against disinformation, that action in and of itself will inevitably become the target of disinformation,” the source who’s discussed the board with DHS said. “Having a very large governance board and a really big, public rollout for it with a very well-known person in this space very publicly leading it, that probably drove their risk up a little more than it needed to.”

Bad faith arguments abound, most of them focused on Jankowicz. Conservative lawmakers and right-wing media have accused her of being a partisan hack who’s unqualified for the job.

  • As evidence of her supposed bias, they’ve pointed to her comments about how the 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story in The New York Post was a “Trump campaign product.” (No one mentions in these attacks that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was the one who provided the laptop data to the Post, but I digress.)

But not all of the backlash is coming from the usual suspects. Other internet freedom experts worry that the existence of such a board within DHS will weaken the U.S.’s ability to push back against autocrats like Putin who are using the supposed threat of disinformation to justify cracking down on anyone who dares to tell the truth.

  • “It is not going to help a single person trying to advance human rights in non-democratic regimes around the world,” tweeted Daphne Keller, director of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center.
  • “DHS needs to pull the plug on this as soon as possible,” U.S. Naval Academy professor Jeff Kosseff added over the weekend.

One person who is standing up for the board’s creation? Former CISA head Chris Krebs, who was on the front lines of the 2020 fight against election misinformation and maybe knows more than anyone about the scope of the challenge inside DHS.

  • In a Twitter thread, Krebs said the Trump administration’s battle with disinformation had been “ad hoc” and that a board that has transparent rules around the First Amendment, privacy and civil rights is “exactly what DHS should do.”
  • And if anyone doesn’t like it? This is a good moment for Congress to more clearly define DHS’ power, Krebs argued.

This isn’t the first government body to try to take on disinformation. Under President Obama, the State Department launched a Global Engagement Center in hopes of countering ISIS propaganda and, in the wake of the 2016 election, state-sponsored aggression.

  • But that effort fell on hard times under President Trump, who wasn’t exactly motivated to investigate Russian interference.
  • The Disinformation Governance Board may end up being an even trickier sell. While the State Department is focused on threats from abroad, DHS has a domestic focus.

This new board has its work cut out for it. But the hardest part may be dispelling the many and multiplying myths about itself.

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

In Washington

Morale at the FTC is sinking, according to internal surveys obtained by The Information. Staff views on their respect for leadership and perception of leadership integrity have dropped precipitously, and overall satisfaction fell from 89% in 2020 to just 60% last November.

Elon Musk isn’t exactly Washington’s smoothest operator.According to a former SpaceX lobbyist, the likely new owner of Twitter once talked smack about a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer … not realizing she was on the other end of the line. Oops.

CrowdTangle’s former CEO Brandon Silverman will testify about platform transparency during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on May 4 at 2 p.m. ET. Silverman will testify alongside Stanford’s Nate Persily and Daphne Keller, AEI’s Jim Harper and NYU’s Jonathan Haidt.

In the states

An algorithm used by child welfare services in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, disproportionately flags Black children for mandatory investigations by social workers. Over a nearly two-year period, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that the Allegheny Family Screening tool referred 32.5% of Black children to investigations, compared to 20.8% of white children.

Lyft and Uber will pay drivers’ legal fees if they’re sued under Oklahoma’s anti-abortion bill, which is expected to be signed into law any day now. The bill, modeled after Texas’ law, would levy fines up to $10,000 on anyone who aids in an abortion, including by offering patients a ride.


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In the courts

Google is asking a European court to dismiss a $1.6 billion antitrust fine over online search. The fine stems from a 2019 European Commission decision that found Google had prohibited publishers from running ads for its competitors on search result pages.

On Protocol

Midterm candidates have no idea what district they’re running in due to stalled redistricting efforts. Ongoing battles over where lines will be drawn have hampered campaigns’ ability to use data about their district to target voters and woo donors. “They don’t want to donate — the big-ticket donors — until they know what district I’m in,” one Ohio state Senate candidate told Protocol.

Around the world

EU regulators say Apple broke antitrust laws by blocking PayPal and other Apple Pay competitors from accessing the near-field communication tech in iPhones and Apple watches that allows people to pay with a single tap. The accusations came in a preliminary judgment, which Apple can now answer before receiving final judgment. If the charges stick, Apple could face fines up to 10% of its global revenue.

Commercial satellite imagery is transforming the war in Ukraine, making it tougher for Russia to hide its next moves. “Commercial geospatial data is to the war in Ukraine what GPS was to Desert Storm 30 years ago,” John Serafini, CEO of HawkEye 360, told the Wall Street Journal.

The prime minister of Spain’s phone was hacked by Pegasus spyware twice last year. The news comes after Citizen Lab found that dozens of phones belonging to Catalonian separatists had been infiltrated with spyware.

In the media, culture and metaverse

Google fired another AI researcher. Satrajit Chatterjee was critical of the company’s own research on the possibilities of AI, and according to The New York Times, he was fired after attempting to rebut a Google paper published in the journal Nature on the potential of AI to build computer chips.

In the C-suite

Salesforce is the latest tech giant to change its NDAs, following shareholder pressure. The company committed to extend employee protections enshrined in California’s Silenced No More Act to all U.S. employees. Apple made a similar commitment after a hard-fought battle against a shareholder proposal earlier this year.

Jack Dorsey was among the “shadow crew” pushing Elon Musk to take Twitter private, according to the Wall Street Journal. Peter Thiel and David Sacks have also reportedly been nudging the deal along.


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In data

Three hours: That’s how long it took MyPillow’s Mike Lindell to get banned from Twitter again after he returned to the site this weekend. His offense? Evading his ban on Twitter.

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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