Paper Written by New Head of Disinformation Board May Offer Insight into Policies

A paper written by President Joe Biden’s new disinformation czar may indicate what policies the new Disinformation Governance Board will roll out.

A paper written by Nina Jankowicz is mentioned as a footnote on the Department of Homeland website for “Combatting Targeted Disinformation Campaigns.” 

Written in Dec. 2020, and titled, “Freedom and Fakes: A Comparative Exploration of Countering Disinformation and Protecting Free Expression,” Jankowicz outlines “five guiding principles for any regulation aimed at countering online disinformation while protecting democratic ideals.”

She wrote it with Shannon Pierson, a Cybersecurity Fellow at the University of Washington, while she worked at the Wilson Center, a think tank described as the “the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue.”

The first principle Jankowicz mentions in her paper vaguely states that “when defining what speech will be deemed harmful in counter disinformation regulation, precision is key.”

The first principle Jankowicz mentioned offered no indication of what precision would look like but did include as an addendum case studies wherein government censorship efforts resulted in negative consequences.

In citing case studies that would offer a framework to Jankowicz’s first principle, she writes that “in both the Singaporean and Ukrainian cases, overbroad definitions contributed to fears that laws drafted under the guise of protecting national security and freedom of opinion would rather contribute to a chilling effect in society as well as empower the government to quash criticism.”

The “Second” principle she writes mentions how “case studies demonstrate the importance of mandating transparency and oversight – ideally from an apolitical, expert body—as part of any regulatory framework.”

“The necessity of these mandates,” she continues, “is evident from Germany’s attempts to require enforcement disclosures from platforms, which all interpreted the tasking differently and reported varied data, making a cross-platform comparison of enforcement metrics nearly impossible.”

The “Third” principle, she writes, marks “the importance of establishing an independent body to enforce and adjudicate counter disinformation law, ideally drawing on the existing structures and expertise of judicial authorities, cannot be understated.

“In Singapore, Ministers from the ruling party issue correction directions to the detriment of the fourth estate. Ukraine had similar plans for its Information Commissioner, who would be appointed by the President. Even if neither of these governments had questionable records of protecting freedom of speech, this structure would still be problematic. Changes in government happen frequently, and a new administration with less respect for fundamental freedoms might abuse the powers of the office against political opponents and critics. Any body overseeing these laws should be expert, politically insulated, and utilize the independent judiciary for adjudication.”

“Fourth, and related, users must have recourse above the platform level in order to dispute takedowns of their content.”

“They must be informed of its removal, unlike under Germany’s NetzDG, as well as of the opportunities they have to challenge the decision. These notifications should be easily accessible, written in plain language, and not deliberately obfuscated by platforms or governments.”

The fifth principle Jankowicz mentions states that “the development of any social media regulation should be pursued in consultation with civil society and other democratic partners, and with the use of existing legal frameworks…”

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