The Department of Homeland Security put a hold on efforts to establish a board to combat online disinformation under heavy attacks from conservatives.
The Biden administration had tapped extremism researcher Nina Jankowicz as executive director of the Disinformation Governance Board, but she resigned Tuesday and the project was "paused" following intense pressure from some of the same forces the 33-year-old author and researcher had been fighting for years, reported the Washington Post.
“Nina Jankowicz has been subjected to unjustified and vile personal attacks and physical threats,” a DHS spokesperson said in a statement. “In congressional hearings and in media interviews, the Secretary has repeatedly defended her as eminently qualified and underscored the importance of the Department’s disinformation work, and he will continue to do so.”
DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admits the agency "could have done a better job of communicating what it is and what it isn’t," but Jankowitz was singled out almost immediately by the right-wing internet for abuse and harassment after far-right influencer Jack Posobiec accused the administration of establishing a "Ministry of Truth," as described in George Orwell's "1984."
Tens of thousands of tweets poured in within hours referencing Jankowicz by name, and Republican lawmakers soon joined in the attacks, which were amplified by Fox News, which referred to her or the board in about 70 percent of its one-hour segments the following week.
Right-wing websites began publishing articles based on her past social media posts, and Mayorkas and other administration officials were unable to counter the attacks and directed Jankowicz herself to remain silent -- which disinformation experts say was the exactly wrong approach.
“The irony is that Nina’s role was to come up with strategies for the department to counter this type of campaign, and now they’ve just succumbed to it themselves,” said a congressional staffer with knowledge of the situation. “They didn’t even fight, they just rolled over.”