The FBI has publicly justified its suppression of dissenting online views about US foreign policy if a media outlet can be somehow linked to one of its adversaries. The Bureau’s justification followed a series of instances in which Silicon Valley social media platforms banned accounts following consultations with the FBI.
In a particularly notable case in 2018, the FBI encouraged Facebook, Instagram and Google to remove or restrict ads on the American Herald Tribune (AHT), an online journal that published critical opinion articles on US policy toward Iran and the Middle East. The bureau has never offered a clear rationale, however, despite its private discussions with Facebook on the ban.
The FBI’s first step toward intervening against dissenting views on social media took place in October 2017 with the creation of a Foreign Influence Task Force (FTIF) in the bureau’s Counterintelligence Division. Next, the FBI defined any effort by states designated by the Department of Defense as major adversaries (Russia, China, Iran and North Korea) to influence American public opinion as a threat to US national security.
In February 2020, the FBI defined that threat in much more specific terms and implied that it would act against any online media outlet that was found to fall within its ambit. At a conference on election security on February 24, David K. Porter, who identified himself as Assistant Section Chief of the Foreign Influence Task Force, defined what the FBI described as “malign foreign influence activity” as “actions by a foreign power to influence U.S. policy, distort political sentiment and public discourse.”
Porter described “information confrontation” as a force “designed to undermine public confidence in the credibility of free and independent news media.” Those who practice this dark craft, he said, seek to “push consumers to alternative news sources,” where “it’s much easier to introduce false narratives” and thus “sow doubt and confusion about the true narratives by exploiting the media landscape to introduce conflicting story lines.”
“Information confrontation”, however, is simply the literal Russian translation of the term “information warfare.” Its use by the FTIF appears to be aimed merely at justifying an FBI role in seeking to suppress what it calls “alternative news sources” under any set of circumstances it can justify.