The thing about a bureaucracy like the United States is that it’s a nation of laws. You know that because lawmakers proudly state that every chance they get. And because it’s a nation of laws, there are far too many laws for the average citizen to ever figure out all the laws of the land, and what new laws are being made… And Bills like this one slip right on by, right under the noses of people who should be watching for them. This is the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act.
The Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act
The Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act is a bill that is designed to fight Anti-American propaganda, directed against people who would like to see national security undermined. At least that’s what you can get from the Wikipedia entry. The full scope of the act goes beyond that. The purpose of the bill according to the law is “to promote fact-based narratives that support the United States allies and their interests.”
This bill is chillingly similar to Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth,” and I wish that were an exaggeration. It’s a bit odd that this bill was signed right before Christmas (December 23rd) and it was buried deep inside another act, the Defense Authorizations Act.
One could understand why the US would want to do this, in an era where social media is starting to have a bigger sway than traditional news media. What is not so clear is if the US has the right to do it. Should social media be considered US territory? Does the government have jurisdiction over what goes on on social media?
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said in a statement to Congress: “Surprisingly, there is currently no single U.S. government agency or department charged with the national level development, integration and synchronization of whole-of-government strategies to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation.”
And maybe that’s a good thing. We Americans love free speech until someone else starts using it.
The Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act: The Issue with Free Speech
And although there is a difference between “free speech” and “propaganda designed to mislead people,” it’s still a foggy and scary thing to think about the government having a whole organization designed to monitor and combat propaganda.
This Bill is specifically aimed at nations like China and Russia, and “other nations,” according to Rob Portman. The bill also came with extensive funding for experts and think tanks that will develop people who are really good at finding foreign propaganda and countering it with “facts-based narratives.”
This bill had bipartisan support, which is odd considering that one side or another would typically disagree with a bill that could have this much effect. There was a good deal of controversy from the Senate, although the House passed the bill with very little fuss.
What Does it Entail?
There are two steps to The Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act:
The first priority is developing a whole-of-government strategy for countering the foreign propaganda and disinformation waged against us and our allies by our enemies.
The bill would increase the authority, resources, and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include state actors like Russia and China as well as non-state actors. The Center will be led by the State Department, but with the active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community, and other relevant agencies. The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations by our enemies and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
Secondly, the legislation seeks to leverage expertise from outside government to create more adaptive and responsive U.S. strategy options. The legislation establishes a fund to help train local journalists and provide grants and contracts to NGOs, civil society organizations, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations, and other experts outside the U.S. government with experience in identifying and analyzing the latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques. This fund will complement and support the Center’s role by integrating capabilities and expertise available outside the U.S. government into the strategy-making process. It will also empower a decentralized network of private sector experts and integrate their expertise into the strategy-making process.
Here it is broken down: Step 1 declares war on propaganda, headed by the State Department and backed by a host of other government entities. The plan to “expose and counter” examples of propaganda.
The Second Step Towards the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act
Step 2 gets civilians involved, training journalists and giving money to non-government organizations (NGOs) and experts to help strategize. If the part about journalists doesn’t chill you, it should. The state now gets to decide what is foreign propaganda and what isn’t, and trains journalists what’s acceptable and what is “Anti-American.”
This all comes at a very dangerous time; the controversy over Fake News™ has caused people to go into a hysteria over Russian propaganda infiltrating the US. With a new department like that, outlets that are critical of the US could easily be labeled as foreign propaganda and fined or silenced. It’s not a great time for the news, which is why it’s more important than ever the people know what’s going on, and that journalists take the greatest care to only report 100% accurate, factual details. Fake news and propaganda are a huge deal, but it’s up to the public to be educated enough to catch the false and hold onto the truth. The government should not do that for us. Vet your sources! This bill has been largely ignored in the media, most likely because news like this does not sell as well as reporting Donald Trump’s latest tweet… But it has a massive impact on daily life.