Biden's counter-disinformation advisor resigns after a few weeks on the job

American flag at half staff over the White House to mark 1 million killed by COVID-19

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The head of President Joe Biden's administration's disinformation-fighting advisory group has resigned, she told Reuters on Wednesday and the Department of Homeland Security said it had paused the group's activities.

Nina Jankowicz, who was named as executive director of the DHS's Disinformation Governance Board last month, said she was expecting a baby and "spending time with my family is first priority".

"In the fall, I plan to continue the work I've done throughout my career building awareness of disinformation in the public sphere, working on issues related to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and continuing my work related to women’s online expression."

The board's creation and Jankowicz's appointment to it provoked a fierce reaction from right-wing critics and drew skepticism from some experts in the field.

Far right figures - many of whom have spread former President Donald Trump's lies about Biden stealing the 2020 election - accused the administration of setting up a "Ministry of Truth" in the vein of the totalitarian propaganda agency described in the novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Jankowicz herself became a particular focus of abuse.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement that the board was being "grossly and intentionally mischaracterized."

"It was never about censorship or policing speech in any manner. It was designed to ensure we fulfill our mission to protect the homeland, while protecting core Constitutional rights."

DHS said the board was intended to advise the government on how to fight lies spread by, for example, foreign countries such as Russia or China, or human traffickers using false assurances to lure migrants into crossing the border into the United States.

But the message was lost among the backlash from the right and DHS said it was pausing the board's activity pending a "thorough review."

The Washington Post first reported news of Jankowicz's resignation and a pause to the board's activity.

Although some experts had doubts about the appropriateness of a disinformation board operating out of DHS, they condemned the attacks on Jankowicz.

"I welcome the pausing of the 'Disinformation Governance Board' after just 3 weeks - I believe this was a major strategic error of the administration," said Emma Briant, a visiting research associate at Bard College in New York.

But she said on Twitter that it was "utterly abhorrent" that Jankowicz had been turned into a punching bag.

(Reporting by Raphael Satter and Alexandra Alper; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Philippa Fletcher)