The Department of Homeland Security has had a rough go of it this year between revelations that refugees haven’t been vetted appropriately, the record number of illegal border crossings, and of course the laughable launch and subsequent evaporation of the poorly named Disinformation Governance Board.

However, it would seem that hasn’t stopped the DHS from attempting to become a not so undercover Ministry of Truth, à la 1984.

The progressive outlet The Intercept has done God’s work, through leaked documents and Freedom of Information Act requests that show the federal government works directly with media companies to censor information. 

Just what you expected your taxpayer dollars to go towards, finding ways to police speech and manage what you can and can’t see on social media. It’s time to dust off your copies of George Orwell’s 1984 as we dive into what these revelations tell us and what they mean moving forward. 

What A Team

Let’s be clear, the government has been in the business of information misdirection for decades. It just happens to be more noticeable now than in the past thanks to technology, social media, and the evolution of citizen journalism.

But this isn’t a history lesson, let’s focus on more recent events which show how bold the government has gotten over time.

Before the 2020 election DHS was meeting with representatives of Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Wikipedia, Microsoft, and LinkedIn on a monthly basis. This meeting also included representatives from the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA).

What was the purpose of this meeting? To discuss how to handle so-called “misinformation” regarding the upcoming election. 

We’ve seen previews of this much larger scandal, given the allegation from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg that the censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story was due in large part to a “warning” from the FBI.

So would we call what the FBI did there misinformation, disinformation, or my favorite new term… malinformation?

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Let’s break those terms down shall we? Misinformation is false information given out accidentally, disinformation is incorrect information given out on purpose, and malinformation is true information that is given out of context. 

I’d say the FBI participated in disinformation regarding the laptop based on those definitions. Luckily there is a team within the DHS itself dedicated to squashing said activity, right?

Same Zebra, Same Stripes

Free speech advocates and libertarians breathed a sigh of relief at the apparent dissolution of the Disinformation Governance Board earlier this year. But, unfortunately, rumors of its demise were premature: it’s just now called the Misinformation Disinformation and Malinformation Team. 

Somebody really needs to come up with better names for these things, sounds like something out of a comic book but with much lamer super powers. This team within DHS has reached its tentacles into fighting “disinformation” for the Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.

So how did the DHS evolve from a focus on counterterrorism to a focus on counter-speech? With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan they had to find something else to do.

As the DHS has said they now have to:

“… adapt to terror threats exacerbated by misinformation and disinformation spread online including by domestic violent extremists.”

Get that? The War on Terror isn’t overseas anymore. Now it’s here at home. If only there were people warning about this from the get go!

Plus they obviously want to align with President Joe Biden’s National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, that states it’s purpose is to enhance:

“… faith in government and addressing the extreme polarization, fueled by a crisis of disinformation and misinformation often channeled through social media platforms, which can tear Americans apart and lead some to violence.”

Hmmm… I wonder what the Biden administration and DHS could be referring to when they mention ‘violent extremists’ and ‘lead some to violence? Could they be referring to ‘Ultra MAGA Republicans’? 

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Or maybe they are referring to the rhetoric that led to a man attempting to assassinate a conservative Supreme Court Justice. I doubt it.

The Soft Block

The DHS’ plans for combating misinformation and disinformation were to target among other subjects:

  • origins of COVID-19
  • efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines
  • racial justice
  • withdrawal from Afghanistan
  • nature of U.S. support to Ukraine

That’s an interesting list, I imagine it will only be a matter of time before the Misinformation, Disinformation, and Malinformation Team come after me, after I all I speak critically of at least three of those five listed regularly.

Perhaps they already have: currently there is a formalized process in place for government officials to flag content for Facebook and Instagram to throttle or suppress said content.

Where are all the people who proclaim to fear for “democracy”? 

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According to a 2021 report by the Election Integrity Partnership at Stanford University, out of 4,800 flagged items, 35% had action taken on them by technology platforms. These actions included:

  • removal
  • labeling 
  • soft blocking

Soft blocking is when a viewer receives a pop up warning them that what they might read could be “misinformation.”

Information Ecosystem

Interestingly, while it’s fairly known that Facebook and Instagram participate in this sort of activity, Twitter, which has been criticized for censoring information before, claims they don’t participate.

A spokesperson for Twitter told The Intercept:

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

However, in a June report authored by the Twitter head of legal policy, trust, and safety, Vijaya Gadde among others asked the DHS to expand their role in shaping the “information ecosystem”.

In this report Gadde requested that the DHS play a broader role in closely monitoring:

“Social media platforms of all sizes, mainstream media, cable news, hyper partisan media, talk radio and other online resources.”

It’s important to note that Gadde, in addition to her job at Twitter was also a part of the DHS advisory committee of CISA. Shortly after Elon Musk took over Twitter, Gadde was fired.

I would argue that was an excellent management move by Elon, and I wouldn’t worry about Gadde, I’m sure there is a spot for her somewhere in DHS.

I’ll end with this question; why would social media executives want to cooperate with DHS in essentially picking and choosing what is truth and what is not?

The answer lies within the book they seem to be shaping their future out of, as said in 1984:

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

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