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U.S. Department of Homeland Security Quietly Expanding Efforts To Censor Alleged Misinformation, Pressure Tech Platforms

The U.S Department of Homeland Security is quietly expanding its efforts to police alleged misinformation and pressure technology platforms to shape online discourse in keeping with government narrative. This is according to an investigation by the Intercept which has obtained internal DHS documents, including years of memos, emails and meeting minutes coming from leaks and information appended in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

Much of this work takes place behind closed doors, unknown to the American public, and through pressure on private platforms.

The documents reveal attempts to protect American “critical infrastructure” from what the DHS repeatedly describes as threats of “disinformation”.

Though the DHS aborted its controversial Disinformation Governance Board – a panel designed to police misinformation (false information spread unintentionally), disinformation (false information spread intentionally), and malinformation (factual information shared, typically out of context, with harmful intent) that allegedly threatens U.S. interests – a strategic document reveals that the same work is ongoing indirectly and quietly.

According to a draft copy of DHS’s Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, which outlines the department’s strategy and priorities in the coming years, the DHS plans to police alleged misinformation on a wide range of key issues, including “the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.”

In a March meeting, Laura Dehmlow, an FBI official, warned that subversive information on social media could undermine support for the U.S. government. Dehmlow stressed that “we need a media infrastructure that is held accountable.

It is not clear how the U.S government defines disinformation. The subjective nature of evaluating what constitutes disinformation opens the door for the DHS to make political motivated decisions to censor information that does not correspond to the government line.

Pressure to Censor?

The documents reveal the department has a back channel to communicate its desire to promote or censor certain messages on Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook created a special portal for DHS and government partners to report disinformation directly.

In a statement to the Intercept, Twitter denied coordinating with government to censor information.

“We do not coordinate with other entities when making content moderation decisions, and we independently evaluate content in line with the Twitter Rules,” a spokesperson for Twitter wrote.

DHS justifies its activities on alleged misinformation by claiming that terrorist threats can be “exacerbated by misinformation and disinformation spread online.”

Government entities reportedly communicated regularly with tech platforms to prepare for the 2020 election. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, Wikipedia, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Verizon Media met on a monthly basis with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and other government representatives. According to NBC News, the meetings were part of an initiative, still ongoing, between the private sector and government to discuss how firms would handle misinformation during the election.

Biden Ramps Up Fight Against Alleged Misinformation

The Biden administration has intensified efforts to police alleged misinformation. CISA’s original scope of work has expanded beyond disinformation produced by foreign governments to include disinformation produced by domestic actors. According to one CISA official, the Misinformation, Disinformation and Malinformation (MDM) team at CISA now “counters all types of disinformation, to be responsive to current events.”

Jen Easterly, Biden’s appointed director of CISA, said the agency would get more resources to combat alleged misinformation on social media.

Speaking at a conference in November 2021, Easterly said “One could argue we’re in the business of critical infrastructure, and the most critical infrastructure is our cognitive infrastructure, so building that resilience to misinformation and disinformation, I think, is incredibly important.”

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