#17 – Leaks Reveal Homeland Security Plans to Regulate Disinformation Online

by Shealeigh
Published: Last Updated on

A series of leaks have exposed plans by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ramp up censorship of dangerous speech online. According to an October 2022 report from the Intercept, DHS announced a new “Disinformation Governance Board” in early 2022 [Note: On DHS’s Disinformation Governance Board, see also Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff, “Toward An American Ministry of Truth?” in State of the Free Press 2023, eds. Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff (Fair Oaks, CA and New York: Censored Press and Seven Stories Press, 2022), 11-14]. The board’s goals were 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,” the Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein and Lee Fang explained.

Records seized in a lawsuit filed by Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, show how the US government uses its power and influence to shape discourse online. Leaked records from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency’s (CISA) Cybersecurity Advisory Committee contain various discussions concerning the range and limits of US influence over online discourse and conversations surrounding strategies to successfully remove false or intentionally misleading information from social media platforms.

The Intercept cited another CISA document, in which FBI official Laura Dehmlow claimed that support for the US government could be undermined by subversive social media content. The meeting where Dehmlow discussed this matter was attended by multiple Twitter executives and senior executives from JPMorgan Chase.

When the Intercept asked about Twitter’s participation, a company spokesperson wrote, “We do not coordinate with other entities when making content moderation decisions, and we independently evaluate content in line with the Twitter Rules.” Facebook and Instagram, however, have different policies and regulations for government officials. These sites include dedicated “portals” that allow government officials to directly flag and suppress information they deem unfit under government policy regulations.

Efforts to combat misinformation online increased following a series of high-profile hacking incidents at US firms in 2018. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act was signed and enacted in response. This law created a new section of the DHS committed to policing disinformation. Under this policy, it is standard protocol for state officials to send examples of disinformation to CISA, which then forwards them to the tech companies for their response.

According to the Intercept, despite eventually disbanding its Disinformation Governance Board, DHS intends to expand its efforts at policing online content to target “inaccurate information on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.”

The Intercept’s reporting was referenced by the Washington Post in its coverage of the DHS leaks. However, the Post did not mention DHS’s plans to target misinformation concerning COVID-19 vaccines, racial injustice, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, or US support of Ukraine. The Post’s reporting also failed to mention the Facebook portal that allows DHS and government partners to report disinformation directly to the company. Fox News twice referenced the Intercept report, though its coverage focused mostly on politicians’ reactions to the leaks [Note also: Adam Shaw, “Hawley Demands Answers on DHS ‘Disinformation’ Efforts, Accuses Mayorkas of Hiding Docs From Congress,” Fox News, November 14, 2022]. ABC News, citing the same Intercept report, published a short web post examining the DHS’s relationship with Facebook. Conservative media outlets, including the National Review and American Conservative, also published articles examining DHS plans to target disinformation online that cited the Intercept’s reporting on the subject.

Ken Klippenstein and Lee Fang, “Truth Cops: Leaked Documents Outline DHS’s Plans to Police Disinformation,” The Intercept, October 31, 2022.

Student Researcher: Reagan Haynie (Loyola Marymount University)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)