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How Homeland Security Responded To Its Own Disinformation Crisis
From:
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Thursday, May 26, 2022


The cover of Edward Segal's book on crisis management
 
 

Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Bestselling Author of the Award- Winning Book "Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies" (Nicholas Brealey)

The Department of Homeland Security, which recently established a Disinformation Governance Board to study the best practices for fighting the harmful effects of disinformation, found itself embroiled in a disinformation crisis of its own.

The Washington Post reported that the work of the new board has been put on hold after its head, Nina Jankowicz, was the victim of online attacks, the organization was criticized and the Biden administration struggled to respond.

"The Board's purpose has been grossly mischaracterized; it will not police speech," the DHS?DHS? spokesperson said. "Quite the opposite, its focus is to ensure that freedom of speech is protected.''

Jankowicz "has been subjected to unjustified and vile personal attacks and physical threats," a DHS spokesperson told The Post 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."

Critics took issue with the board's name, comparing it to the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984, while others attacked or sought to distort its mission.

Jankowicz Resigns

Jankowicz resigned after the Washington Post published its story, according to CNN.

"With the Board's work paused and its future uncertain ... I have decided to leave DHS to return to my work in the public sphere," she said in a statement.

"It is deeply disappointing that mischaracterizations of the Board became a distraction from the Department's vital work, and indeed, along with recent events globally and nationally, embodies why it is necessary. I maintain my commitment to building awareness of disinformation's threats and trust the Department will do the same," Jankowicz said.

'Set Up To Fail'

According to the Washington Post, "Those familiar with the board's inner workings, including DHS employees and Capitol Hill staffers, along with experts on disinformation, say Jankowicz was set up to fail by an administration that was unsure of its messaging and unprepared to counteract a coordinated online campaign against her."

Gabrielle DePietro is a public relations lead at Next PR, specializing in crisis communications and media training. She observed that "…DHS handled some aspects of the crisis correctly by making the formal decision to take immediate and necessary action and pause the board. [But] they are still lacking a media statement summarizing the 'why' behind it or even an acknowledgment that it has taken place. There is still much more they can be doing to mitigate the issue."

Advice For Business Leaders

Don't Stay Quiet

"The biggest lesson business leaders can take from this situation is the impact staying silent can have on the narrative," DePietro said. "Misinformation can run rampant if a company doesn't offer to tell their side of the story as soon as possible."

Control The Narrative

"While traditional media practices will encourage the use of 'no comment,' or silence, social media has caused us to change our philosophy," she added.

"No matter good, bad, or ugly, business leaders should always provide a statement so that they can better take control of the messaging and not leave room for misinformation, rumor mills and speculative theories," DePietro concluded.

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Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.

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