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Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley are calling on the Department of Homeland Security to provide additional details on how it planned to coordinate its highly controversial disinformation board with social media companies to remove user content after a whistleblower provided them with key documents about the board.
The public first learned about the Disinformation Governance Board when DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke of it during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing in April. This was two days after news broke of a deal for Elon Musk to purchase Twitter, which drew concern from the left that a lack of censorship would lead to the spread of false information.
The disclosure ignited a wave of public backlash, forcing the DHS to put the board on pause and its appointed leader, Nina Jankowicz, to resign. Particular criticism was aimed at Jankowicz, a Wilson Center global fellow who had previously pushed information later found to be false or misleading, and engaging in sharply partisan advocacy online. In a press conference announcing the pause, Biden press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the board’s “work doesn’t stop.”
In an open letter DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Sens. Grassley of Iowa and Hawley of Missouri said DHS must “provide additional clarity regarding its policies and procedures for identifying (mis-, dis- or mal-information), as well as its efforts to ‘operationalize’ public-private partnerships and the steps it is taking to ensure it does not infringe on the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
The senators say they are in possession of internal DHS records provided through a whistleblower “that illustrate how the DGB was designed to exert a powerful influence over the government’s efforts to crack down on disinformation in areas where there are ‘clear, objective facts.’”
These purported documents, the senators added, further illustrate that DHS was not only focused on foreign disinformation but also on domestic issues like the validity of elections, COVID-19 vaccines, and the efficacy of wearing masks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.