Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Idahoans have been rightfully concerned with the Biden Administration’s brazen attempt to establish a federal propaganda panel under the guise of countering disinformation. If the Administration truly intended to counter disinformation threats to national security, it would not have established this so-called Disinformation Governance Board under a months-long veil of secrecy. This waste of taxpayer dollars and threat to free speech must remain shuttered.
In April, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board aimed at combatting online mis- and disinformation. The few details on the board’s operation and the antics of the board’s executive director led to concern that this board would infringe on constitutionally-protected freedoms and target information the Administration disagrees with rather than disinformation. A DHS Fact Sheet issued on May 2, 2022, did nothing to quell concern on the board’s potential broad, cloudy goals stating, “Disinformation, which is false information that is deliberately spread with the intent to deceive or mislead, can take many forms.”
In that fact sheet, the DHS listed three maddeningly vague and inadequate efforts the Department would take to “build the trust needed” for the board to be effective. Its first step was to claim a renewed commitment to transparency and openness, by releasing reports to Congress after its actions; its second step was a request for a council appointed by the Secretary, the Homeland Security Advisory Council, to develop recommendations on how to address disinformation, while protecting free speech and other fundamental rights; and the third step was to explore additional ways to enhance the public's trust.
However, there was a conspicuously missing essential step—quickly dismantling the Disinformation Governance Board and instead working across all federal agencies to share clear, direct information with the American public on all issues. Public health guidance throughout the COVID pandemic is a clear example of an area where honest, straightforward, concise and effective communication would have been the best counter to disinformation concerns. An opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal put it this way, “The only proven effective way to counter bad information is with good information. The only way to overcome lies is with truth.”
Working with fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch, we have taken a number of steps to stop this alarming federal overreach. We have co-sponsored legislation to bar federal funds for the Disinformation Governance Board, including S. 4124, introduced by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and S. 4164, introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and backed efforts to expedite their consideration in the Senate. We have also urged Senate appropriators to prohibit funding in this year's annual appropriation process; we wrote, “While DHS has promised the board will ‘protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties,’ we do not take solace in words alone. A fine line exists between tackling misinformation and government censorship.”
Thankfully, reports have since indicated that pressure from Republicans and others has resulted in DHS pausing the Disinformation Governance Board, and it should be closed for good. The bottom line is no matter what political party a person most aligns with, we must all ask ourselves ‘how would you feel if the person you distrust the most is in charge of policing information?’--not very well, for sure. We have so many critical issues to tackle for our country. The Administration should stop playing games and focus on securing our southern border, addressing skyrocketing inflation and reducing its excessive overreach into the lives of Americans.
# # #
Word Count: 580