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Republicans slam DHS’ ongoing crackdown on ‘disinformation’ after disbanding controversial governance board

Republicans are sounding the alarm after newly published documents detailed how the Department of Homeland Security is still working with Big Tech to combat disinformation on social media despite disbanding its controversial governance board earlier this year.

The documents, first reported by The Intercept Monday, revealed that while DHS disbanded its “Disinformation Governance Board” in May, the agency is still working to combat disinformation on a range of topics, including COVID-19, vaccines, racial issues, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Ukraine aid.

According to a draft copy of its Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, the DHS’ capstone strategy document, the agency intends to target disinformation on topics such as “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,” The Intercept reported.

The document also reportedly confirms that tackling disinformation and misinformation spread online by “domestic violent extremists” is becoming one of the DHS’ top priorities behind counterterrorism.

DISINFORMATION PUSH SHOWS DHS ‘POLITICIZING’ ITSELF, SAY TOP HOMELAND SECURITY REPUBLICANS

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before the Senate.
(Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

DISINFORMATION PUSH SHOWS DHS ‘POLITICIZING’ ITSELF, SAYS TOP HOMELAND SECURITY REPUBLICAN

The Intercept also published a leaked document showing Facebook’s secured Government Reporting System, which allows government officials to directly flag content on Facebook or Instagram and request that it be taken down.

The federal government’s crackdown on disinformation began in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump signed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Act, which created a sub-agency of the DHS tasked with strengthening U.S. cybersecurity.

Under President Biden, CISA reportedly expanded its efforts to address disinformation by creating a Misinformation, Disinformation and Malinformation (MDM) team to tackle its spread both domestically and abroad.

MAYORKAS ADMITS HE ‘COULD HAVE DONE A BETTER JOB’ EXPLAINING MISSION OF ‘DISINFORMATION’ BOARD

In June, the CISA Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, which includes now-former Twitter legal counsel Vijaya Gadde, drafted a report, published by The Intercept, that called on CISA to closely monitor “social media platforms of all sizes, mainstream media, cable news, hyper partisan media, talk radio and other online resources” and counter information that undermines “key democratic institutions, such as the courts, or by other sectors such as the financial system, or public health measures.”

Gadde made headlines last week after she was fired from Twitter upon Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company.

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during an April 2022 House hearing.

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during an April 2022 House hearing.
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

A lawsuit filed in May by Missouri Attorney General and Republican Senate candidate Eric Schmitt alleges that the federal government is “colluding” with Big Tech to suppress free speech. Schmitt announced on Oct. 21 that the judge presiding over the case granted permission to depose Dr. Anthony Fauci, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, director of White House digital strategy Rob Flaherty, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, CISA Director Jen Easterly, and FBI Supervisory Special Agent Elvis Chan.

Schmitt told Fox News Digital that his office intends to push forward with the lawsuit, including deposing officials within the federal government.

“Our landmark lawsuit against the Biden administration for allegedly colluding with social media companies to censor freedom of speech has uncovered a vast ‘censorship enterprise,’” he said. “We plan to depose key Biden administration officials, and will continue to work to expose the federal government’s efforts to censor free speech.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks at an election-night gathering after winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Aug. 2, 2022, in St Louis.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks at an election-night gathering after winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Aug. 2, 2022, in St Louis.
(Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., the leading Republican lawmaker on the House Homeland Security Committee, on Tuesday accused the DHS of further “politicizing” itself in the name of dispelling “disinformation.”

“Reports of DHS’s involvement in efforts to be the arbiter of truth on wide-ranging topics are extremely concerning,” Katko said. “This is not DHS’s role, as evidenced by the fierce backlash against and ultimate disbanding of the Disinformation Governance Board earlier this year. Simply put: The American people do not approve of the department engaging in unclear, unaccountable and opaque efforts led by the Biden administration’s ever-changing definition of ‘truth.’”

“It is unfathomable to me how severely misplaced the Department of Homeland Security’s priorities continue to be,” Katko continued. “When the border crisis is reaching record-breaking levels daily, cyber-attacks from adversaries are threatening to cripple our critical infrastructure, the rise in violent crime is putting Americans across the country in danger, and disrupted supply chains are having devastating impacts on Americans, DHS cannot seem to let go of the desire to police Americans’ free speech.”

Rep. John Katko addresses the press during a congressional delegation visit to El Paso, Texas, on March 15, 2021.

Rep. John Katko addresses the press during a congressional delegation visit to El Paso, Texas, on March 15, 2021.
(Justin Hamel/AFP)

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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also called for action in wake of the report.

“What’s really disinformation is that the Biden administration believes in democracy, because here’s what they think – if you will do what they tell you to do, and believe what they tell you to believe and vote the way they want, then they’re for it. But if you want to have your own ideas or speak your own mind or look into things for yourself then they will monitor you, then they will censor you, then they will use the government against you,” he said on “Jesse Watters Primetime.”

“That is a threat to our democracy, and we’ve got to do something about it,” he said.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are pushing to create a new senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who would monitor and respond to public “misinformation” about abortion access and other reproductive and sexual health services.

Legislation from Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga., and four other Democrats would establish a new “reproductive and sexual health” official within HHS, and policing “misinformation” on abortion would be part of the job.

‘MISINFORMATION’ CZAR WOULD PROMOTE ABORTION ACCESS UNDER DEMOCRATS’ NEW BILL

The official would “collect information regarding, and to address, reproductive and sexual health misinformation being disseminated to the public,” according to the bill text. 

“The term ‘reproductive and sexual health misinformation’ includes any information relating to reproductive and sexual health that is not evidence based or medically accurate, including inaccuracy in the provision of any related services,” the language continues.

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The proposed reproductive and sexual health HHS official would do more than fight “misinformation” about abortion and would also act as an advocate for abortion access from a top position inside one of the federal government’s largest agencies.

Fox News’ Peter Kasperowicz and Kelly Laco contributed to this report.

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