There is an old fable of a scorpion who wants to cross a river and convinced a hesitant frog to carry him on its back. After all, if he stung the frog in the river, they both would die. That seemed logical so the frog agreed to do so only to have the scorpion deliver a lethal sting halfway across. When the frog asked why the scorpion would doom them both, the scorpion replies: “I am sorry, but I couldn’t resist the urge. It’s in my nature.”
The story came to mind this week when the new head of the Disinformation Governance Board, Nina Jankowicz, pledged to protect free speech despite a career dissing and dismissing the right. After withering criticism of her appointment, Jankowicz declared the new board at Homeland Security will “maintain the Dept’s committment [sic] to protecting free speech.” She has spent a career denouncing “first amendment zealots” like myself who believe in a robust view of free speech.
As previously discussed, Jankowicz has made a career as an advocate for public and corporate censorship as well as spreading disinformation. She has been a popular figure on the left in assuring audiences that “the ‘free speech vs censorship’ framing is a false dichotomy.”
Not surprisingly, she was one of the first to express outrage at the notion that Elon Musk might restore free speech rights to Twitter:
“I shudder to think about if free speech absolutists were taking over more platforms, what that would look like for the marginalized communities … which are already shouldering … disproportionate amounts of this abuse.”
Jankowicz has declared disinformation to be “an American pathology” and said that Joe Biden is the doctor who can cure that condition.
That pathology, however, appears to largely manifest itself on the right for Jankowicz who has been criticized for spreading disinformation on subjects like the Hunter Biden laptop. She is also a huge advocate of censorship, including calls to ban conservative publications from social media.
In her article, “How to Defeat Disinformation: An Agenda for the Biden Administration” in Foreign Affairs in November of 2020, Jankowicz wrote that Biden needed to get into the business of regulating speech in a big way. Despite the outcry of many of us over the expansive censorship programs on social media, Jankowicz was not satisfied. She dismissed those programs as merely
“temporary, surface-level changes to curb the spread of false claims, but [social media companies] continue to profit from the very structures and imperatives that are now driving groups of Trump-supporting, reality-denying vigilantes to rally at ballot counting centers across the country.”
That has led Jankowicz to call for good old-fashioned government controls over speech if Biden is going to take the threat of disinformation “seriously.” She has pushed the same European censorship efforts that were recently championed by Hillary Clinton after the Musk takeover.
Jankowicz wanted Biden to “creat[e] a counter-disinformation czar within the National Security Council and setting up a corresponding directorate.” That “directorate” was created in Homeland Security instead.
Turns out, the Biden administration gave this new power to the Department of Homeland Security.
Jankowicz, however, is now assuring the public that it has nothing to fear with our new Disinformation Tsar on its back. In history, the shores of civil liberties are littered with dead frogs who accepted that “trust me, I’m the government” assurance.