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Unearthed Emails Reveal Extent Of DHS Involvement In Censoring 2020 Election Posts

The House Judiciary Committee released a report Monday further shedding light on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) involvement with an anti-“disinformation” group that worked to censor content surrounding the 2020 election.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a DHS subdivision, helped create the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), an “information exchange” between researchers, election officials and government agencies established in 2020 to identify and research online election misinformation. However, the EIP routinely flagged content for social media companies to review and suppress with CISA’s awareness, according to the committee’s report.

The House Judiciary Committee released emails showing communications between CISA officials directing censorship efforts of certain content. Despite CISA not directly reporting content to EIP, it did have full “visibility” to what was being reported.

In September 2020 an email from CISA shows Twitter took “action on one of the tweets in [an EIP] ticket,” according to the report. Former CISA Director Chris Krebs contacted Stanford Internet Observatory Director Alex Stamos to inquire about what occurred “around this event around the time the content was taken down.”

“Krebs CISA is texting Stamos with some regularity,” EIP members asserted, according to the report.

Using the EIP, groups including CISA, the Democratic National Committee and the NAACP, could submit “tickets” reporting possible election misinformation, which EIP would then pass on to social media companies following an investigation. The EIP released a 2021 report describing its endeavors to address misinformation in the 2020 election, revealing it had shared hundreds of posts with online platforms, with “35% of the URLs we shared with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube […] either labeled, removed, or soft blocked.”

Days before the 2020 election, a CISA official contacted Twitter flagging a post that had been reported by local officials, emails show. The official referenced a ticket number from EIP’s “Jira” system for the flagged content, despite CISA personnel not being allowed to access the system.

On Nov. 5, 2020, The Center for Internet Security (CIS), a nonprofit financed by CISA that was key in channeling “disinformation” reports to social media platforms, emailed CISA, EIP and Facebook to flag “misinformation,” according to the report. The correspondence appears to suggest the federal government had “direct knowledge” of content reported to EIP, despite assurances of its independence.

CISA’s emails to social media companies flagging content for them included a disclaimer that “DHS affirms that it neither has nor seeks the ability to remove what information is made available on social media platforms” but “information may also be shared with law enforcement or intelligence,” according to the report.

“While CISA did not directly report content to the EIP, CISA had complete visibility on what was being reported to the EIP and at the same time was reporting the same content directly to the social media platforms,” the report says. “While CISA had ‘no official role,’ CISA knew what reports were being submitted to the EIP, received Jira ticket reports and notifications via email, had personnel with direct access to the EIP ticketing system, and was in direct contact with the social media platforms.”

“The federal government and universities pressured social media companies to censor true information, jokes, and political opinions,” the report asserts.

“CISA does not and has never censored speech or facilitated censorship,” CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Every day, the men and women of CISA execute the agency’s mission of reducing risk to U.S. critical infrastructure in a way that protects Americans’ freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy. In response to concerns from election officials of all parties regarding foreign influence operations and disinformation that may impact the security of election infrastructure, CISA mitigates the risk of disinformation by sharing information on election literacy and election security with the public and by amplifying the trusted voices of election officials across the nation.”

DHS did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comment from CISA. 

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