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Disinformation board's ex-leader faced wave of online criticism

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Nina Jankowicz, like so many millennials, was excited to share a social media post announcing her new job on Twitter late last month when she was named executive director for a new disinformation board established by the Department of Homeland Security.

But instead of well-wishes, Jankowicz’s tweet set off a torrent of profanities across social media and menacing emails filled with rape or death threats that continue to follow her even after she resigned from that new job on Wednesday morning following the disastrous rollout of the program.

For her part, Jankowicz said Wednesday she won’t be “silenced” by the online harassment and it was not the final provocation that led to her resignation.

But it had a similar effect.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas decided Tuesday to pause the work of the Disinformation Governance Board after such a negative reception and growing concerns that it was becoming a distraction for the department’s other work on disinformation, according to two department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The board’s pause led Jankowicz to quit Wednesday morning.

To be sure, the board’s bungled launch and the agency’s ensuing struggle to directly answer questions about its purpose, funding or work made the new initiative contentious from the start. Critics and Republican lawmakers raised questions about how the board might infringe on Americans’ free speech and privacy rights.

Others expressed concerns around Jankowicz’s statements during the 2020 election warning of possible Russian involvement around the provenance of a laptop said to belong to Hunter Biden, the president’s eldest son. A TikTok video she posted to the tune of a song from “Mary Poppins” calling the story disinformation was widely criticized by conservative media, Republicans and others.

“I was trying to do important work to protect Americans from a real threat,” Jankowicz said. But, instead, she was spending time reporting a steady wave of threats about herself.

“It was horrible. It was constant (direct messages), emails, threats on Twitter, threats on other places that I wasn’t looking at. That’s obviously really scary and really unpleasant.”

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