It’s always exciting for progressives when they set up a new government office of something. They live for this: another excuse to spend piles of taxpayer dollars; another multi-syllable title and flashy logo; yet another opportunity to extend the long, comforting arm of the bureaucracy to the business of ordinary citizens, who never knew how poor their lives were without it.
So there was a palpable sum of excitement around Washington last week when the Department of Homeland Security proudly inaugurated the Disinformation Governance Board.
Aside from its title and the identity of its CEO, not much we know about this exciting-sounding new body. Its job, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a congressional committee last week, is to tackle lies that threaten U.S. national security. He made it sound over the weekend that it’s all about preventing human traffickers and smugglers from misrepresenting themselves – all harmlessly enough.
But we also learned last week that it will be led by Nina Jankowicz. Her Twitter feed makes her look like a cross between Madame Mao and Bette Midler – a mix of impeccably conformist left-wing views on politics and media misinformation – the Hunter Biden story was Russian disinformation, the Steele dossier was true, etc. – with intolerable political parodies of musical theater numbers. Watching her videos is a bit like being the audience for a Christmas concert in a prisoner of war camp.
The institution she heads – let’s call it the DGB, which has a fine tone over it and is close enough alphabetically and in the spirit of another three-initial organization from another country tasked with enforcing the official version of the truth – is potentially a tool for all sorts of new rules to stop the left’s version of untruths emanating from media and technology companies.
But how can it work? Will it have investigative powers? Will it have its own enforcement resources? Will it request referrals from the public? Will operators be available around the clock to answer calls from concerned neighbors about information protocol violations?
“Hi? Is that DGB? I think people next door are watching Fox News again.”
Ms. Jankowicz and her little corner of the growing bureaucracy sound so absurd that they are easy targets to mock. Mr. Mayorkas tried to clean up some of the clutter and insisted that freedom of speech was secure.
But our progressive overlords are on the warpath against what they define as misinformation and misinformation, and that’s not to be laughed at. One can see it in their hysterical reaction to Elon Musk’s planned acquisition of Twitter.
When the site banned various accounts and individuals on the right, it was, we were told, just a private company with no special public obligations. Now the prospect of a wider range of voices on the platform is a dagger aimed at the heart of democracy and needs to be regulated.
“People are dying because of misinformation,” Barack Obama told an audience in Silicon Valley last month. You may remember Mr Obama. He has been a tireless warrior for years in the twilight battle for truth in politics. If you have a long enough memory, you will remember that he was the president who gave a speech in 2009 to promote his distinctive health measure, in which he attacked critics of the plan for their “scare tactics and intimidation.”
By summoning his famous oratorical skills at a crucial time, he was just as determined at the time as he is now, to put to rest all the misinformation that his opponents negotiated: “No matter how we reform the health care system, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. “
We do not know how many people died as a result of that piece of misinformation – a host of such proportions that even PolitiFact, the self-proclaimed judge of truth and lies, awarded it its coveted title “Lie of the Year” in 2013 – five years later to have rated it as “true” – by which time it had become clear that what critics had said about ObamaCare was in fact neither a scare tactic nor awe-inspiring, but the truth.
It was certainly a consequent lie – one that in 2009-10 helped bolster the small popular support that was for ObamaCare, and perhaps persuaded some dubious Democrats to vote for it.
But even though it was revealed, as far as I remember, no one said that the president should be banned from contributing to national discussions on a major technological platform.
You do not promote the truth by forbidding errors. You do not have a monopoly on the truth in the first place, and you may find that your “truths” are errors or lies. Even if you are right, and epistemically 100% sure, it does not give you the authority to forbid anyone to say anything else.
The only proven effective way to deal with bad information is with good information. The only way to overcome lies is with truth.
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