Disinformation on social media has led to migrant surges at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday that it had formed a Disinformation Governance Board designed to counter misinformation affecting the security of the United States, including at its borders. Despite previously expressing concern over border security, the announcement has come under attack by Republicans in Congress.
In a statement to the Associated Press, the department said, "The spread of disinformation can affect border security, Americans' safety during disasters, and public trust in our democratic institutions."
The board is also set to deal with disinformation from the Russian government, which has been used to promote a series of false stories since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Republicans attacked the announcement, inaccurately referring to the board as "Orwellian" and an attack on free speech.
"Biden must immediately abandon his plan to create an Orwellian Ministry of Truth," tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) similarly referred to the board as a "Ministry of Truth" and "unconstitutional and unamerican." Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said the board is an attempt by the Biden administration to promote censorship "and the use of government to silence speech it dislikes." Sen Rick Scott (R-FL) called the board Biden's "thought police."
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) claimed that the news of the board is "dystopian," while Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) said the board "is textbook Soviet tactics deserving of IMPEACHMENT!!" Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) said, "This is something you'd read about in a history book on the USSR, it has no place in America."
"The left loves calling anything they disagree with 'disinformation,'" tweeted Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). "Now, Biden wants DHS to police it."
Republicans have repeatedly attacked the Biden administration for undoing harsh immigration policies enacted by the Trump administration and have argued that there is a "crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Human traffickers have been using disinformation spread across social networks to contribute to increased migration. The United Nations has noted that false stories had led to migrant surges, ultimately leading to overcrowded boats with thousands drowning, while other migrants have been held captive, tortured, or held for ransom. Last year, thousands of Haitian migrants flocked to the border town of Del Rio, Texas, after false information about changes to U.S. asylum policy spread across social media platforms like WhatsApp.
In 2017, the UN called on Meta, which owns Facebook and WhatsApp, to do more to combat misinformation being spread by traffickers on their sites and applications. Leonard Doyle, a spokesperson for the UN's International Organization for Migration, told Quartz that the networks had "turbocharged" the problems facing migrants around the world.
"It's the unhappy side of the social media story, insofar as people can reach people much easier, they can lie to them, there's no one contradicting them," Doyle said in 2017. "And by the time people do find out about it, it's too late. There are literally pages which are saying; 'The boat's leaving, 5 o'clock, this date, be here, give us your money.'"
Doyle added: "There is no messaging to people except the lies of the smugglers."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.