Coalition Urges Biden to Form Task Force on Disinformation Google offices in New York City City on Oct. 14, 2020. Google (Alphabet Inc.) CEO Sundar Pichai was among people testifying before Congress on combating online misinformation and disinformation. (Copyright zz/John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx 2021)
By Jeffrey Rodack | Thursday, 29 April 2021 09:14 AM
A coalition of human rights, free speech, and technology organizations is urging President Joe Biden to form a task force to study ways to crack down on deliberate disinformation campaigns.
Axios reported the coalition is asking that any crackdown doesn’t unduly limit free expression.
The coalition made its request in a letter to Biden obtained by Axios. Signing the letter were representatives from PEN America, Voto Latino, Common Cause, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Access Now, SimplySecure, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for American Progress, and Free Press.
"As we think about the next four years, we are keenly aware of the challenge the rampant spread of disinformation poses to our nation," the letter said. "The prevalence of deceptions, propaganda, and conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election, COVID-19, and the recent Capitol insurrection illustrates the clear and present threat that disinformation poses to our democracy and national security.
"However, we are equally mindful that solutions adopted in moments of crisis can themselves pose significant dangers to our fundamental freedoms. As Justice Brandeis once wrote, 'fear breeds repression [and] courage is the secret to liberty.'
"Urgent action is needed to ensure that our democracy does not continue to be overrun by disinformation, be it domestic or foreign in origin. Sound public health policy, free and fair elections, and effective democratic deliberation all depend upon getting disinformation under control.
"But the best tools we have for fighting disinformation can pose their own dangers. In the quest to defeat disinformation, we risk enabling censorship, exacerbating existing inequities, and inadvertently curtailing democratic discourse."
Matt Bailey, director of PEN America's Digital Freedom Program, is quoted by Axios as saying: "We know that fighting disinformation also means remaining vigilant against censorship and other threats to free expression. We also know that disinformation itself is a profound threat to free speech, because it prevents the robust exchange of ideas and sows distrust and polarization."
Meanwhile, Russian disinformation is targeting confidence in Western coronavirus vaccines, according to a State Department Global Engagement Center official.
"We can say these outlets are directly linked to Russian intelligence services," the official told the Journal. "They're all foreign-owned, based outside of the United States. They vary a lot in their reach, their tone, their audience, but they're all part of the Russian propaganda and disinformation ecosystem."
The fake news specifically targets Pfizer's vaccine, suggesting it was rushed through approval and might not be safe, attempting to promote vaccine hesitancy with the U.S.-connected vaccines.