- The Intercept reported social media platforms are cooperating with a DHS initiative against misinformation.
- Facebook built a special portal for government officials to request user content be throttled or suppressed.
- Content about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice, and US support for Ukraine has been targeted.
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Social media companies are collaborating with the Department of Homeland Security’s initiative against online misinformation and disinformation, according to a report from The Intercept released Monday, revealing a special portal hosted by Facebook for government officials to report misinformation and disinformation.
Though much of the DHS initiative to address disinformation remains unknown to the American public, the goals became more visible with the creation of the Disinformation Governance Board earlier this year, which had the stated goal of “safeguarding the United States against threats” caused by false information on matters of national security.
“The Department is deeply committed to doing all of its work in a way that protects Americans’ freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy,” read DHS statement regarding the program, which was paused just months after it was announced following extreme backlash from critics who drew parallels to the Ministry of Truth that churned out propaganda in the novel “1984.”
The Intercept’s reporting found, through reviewing internal DHS documents, that the organization targeted information it deemed to be “inaccurate” about “the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of US support to Ukraine” that was posted on social media.
However, how DHS determines what constitutes disinformation — which it defines as “false information that is deliberately spread with the intent to deceive or mislead” — remains unclear and subjective, giving government officials broad leeway in classifying speech as dangerous or false.
Representatives for DHS and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
Government control over Facebook posts
Representatives from tech giants, including Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, met monthly with DHS officials and representatives of CISA leading up to the 2020 election to discuss how the platforms would manage political misinformation, NBC News reported. Specific actions taken by the private businesses remain unclear, but recent DHS reports indicate an increased focus on preventing disinformation campaigns online.
On Facebook, using a portal called the Content Request System, The Intercept reported, government officials from DHS as well as law enforcement officers can directly submit reports about posts that were deemed subversive or suspicious. Though it is unclear when the portal was created or what criteria must be met for a post to be removed, The Intercept reported posts about COVID-19, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the war in Ukraine were targeted.
Facebook’s cooperation with government agencies has long faced bipartisan criticism, including reports of sharing user data about individuals facing charges for seeking an abortion in a state where it wasn’t legal to providing user data in response to forged legal requests. Owner Mark Zuckerberg himself confirmed in an interview with Joe Rogan the platform cooperated with the FBI to suppress reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop, saying it “fit the pattern” of posts the platform had been advised to look out for.
“The background here is that the FBI came to us — some folks on our team — and was like, ‘Hey, just so you know, you should be on high alert that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election,'” Zuckerberg told Rogan. Though the veracity of some of the content reported to be on Biden’s laptop remains unproven, The New York Times in March reported on emails “from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop.”
Representatives for Facebook and Meta did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.