The steady march of the post-2016 tech censorship campaign has been picking up pace lately, and we’ve just learned of another leap forward. According to recent major reporting from the Intercept, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been involved in efforts aimed at corralling what it refers to as “MDM”: misinformation, disinformation, and “malinformation.”
Documents obtained and made publicly available by the news outlet show that the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been formulating a strategy to combat MDM regarding US elections and other matters. While seemingly unobjectionable on the surface ― who could be against combating false information, which is rife online? ― it raises serious questions about the extent of government involvement in the already-troubling phenomenon of tech censorship.
The conversations detailed in the documents show the federal government, and the DHS specifically, taking a more active role in tech companies’ efforts to suppress MDM. We’ve had some indications this was happening for a while, as when DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC in August that the government was “working with the tech companies” on “strengthen[ing] the legitimate use of their very powerful platforms and prevent[ing] harm from occurring,” and that it was doing so “across the federal enterprise” ― comments that were only reported in right-wing media.
The documents give us details about what that work has entailed. In these discussions, the government did not directly carry out censorship. Rather, they involved government agencies: doing “debunking” and “pre-bunking”; directing the press, local and state governments, and other stakeholders to “trusted resources”; carrying out “rumor control”; boosting “trusted authoritative sources”; giving financial support to its external partners; and improving information literacy. Much of the focus is on elections, with participants talking about using these resources to prevent people being misled about how, where, and when to vote, and stressing that CISA should strictly be a “resource” that at most uses its “convening power.”