Disinformation board to tackle Russia, migrant smugglers

The Department of Homeland Security has launched a new panel to tackle disinformation

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Homeland Security is stepping up an effort to counter disinformation coming from Russia as well as misleading information that human smugglers circulate to target migrants hoping to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The spread of disinformation can affect border security, Americans’ safety during disasters, and public trust in our democratic institutions,” the department said in a statement Wednesday. It declined The Associated Press' request for an interview.

A newly formed Disinformation Governance Board announced Wednesday will immediately begin focusing on misinformation aimed at migrants, a problem that has helped to fuel sudden surges at the U.S. southern border in recent years. Human smugglers often spread misinformation around border policies to drum up business.

"We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking the irregular migration path are receiving misinformation that the border is open,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at the time.

The board will be led by disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz, who has researched Russian misinformation tactics and online harassment.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden, a Democrat, repeatedly said he would push tech companies, including Facebook, to crack down harder on misinformation and conspiracy theories that have overwhelmed social media and its users.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers and pundits took to social media on Wednesday to widely criticize the new board and call for it to be disbanded.

“Rather than police our border, Homeland Security has decided to make policing Americans’ speech its top priority,” a tweet from Missouri's U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley read, in part. “They’re creating a Disinformation Board.”

DHS said in its statement that the board will “protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties” as part of its duties.