Academics, universities and government agencies are overhauling or ending research programs designed to counter the spread of online misinformation amid a legal campaign from conservative politicians and activists who accuse them of colluding with tech companies to censor right-wing views.
The escalating campaign — led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other Republicans in Congress and state government — has cast a pall over programs that study not just political falsehoodsbut also the quality of medical information online.
Facing litigation,Stanford University officials are discussing how they can continue tracking election-related misinformation through the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a prominent consortium that flagged social media conspiracies about voting in 2020 and 2022, several participants told The Washington Post. The coalition of disinformation researchers may shrink and also may stop communicating with X and Facebook about their findings…..
Led by the Stanford Internet Observatory and the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, the coalition of researchers was formed in the middle of the 2020 presidential campaign to alert tech companies in real time about viral election-related conspiracies on their platforms. The posts, for example, falsely claimed Dominion Voting Systems’ software switched votes in favor of President Biden, an allegation that also was at the center of a defamation case that Fox News settled for $787 million.
In March 2021, the group released a nearly 300-page report documenting how false election fraud claims rippled across the internet, coalescing into the #StopTheSteal movement that fomented the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol. In its final report, the coalition noted that Meta, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok and YouTube labeled, removed or suppressed just over a third of the posts the researchers flagged.
But by 2022, the partnership was engulfed in controversy. Right-wing media outlets, advocacy groups and influencers such as the Foundation for Freedom Online, Just the News and far-right provocateur Jack Posobiec argued that the Election Integrity Partnership was part of a coalition with government and industry working to censor Americans’ speech online. (Posobiec didn’t respond to a request for comment, but after this story was published online he posted the request on X with the comment: “Every one of these programs will be penniless and powerless by the time I am done.”)
Jordan has sent several legal demands to see the coalition’sinternal communications with the government and social media platforms and hauled them into Congress to testify about their work.
Louis-Charles, the Judiciary Committee spokeswoman, said in a statement that the universities involved with EIP “played a unique role in the censorship industrial complex given their extensive, direct contacts with federal government agencies.”
The probe prompted members of the Election Integrity Partnership to reevaluate their participation in the coalition altogether. Stanford Internet Observatory founder Alex Stamos, whose group helps lead the coalition, told Jordan’s staff earlier this year that he would have to talk with Stanford’s leadership about the university’s continued involvement, according to a partial transcript filed in court.
“Since this investigation has cost the university now approaching seven [figure]legal fees, it’s been pretty successful, I think, in discouraging us from making it worthwhile for us to do a study in 2024,” Stamos said.
Kate Starbird, co-founder of the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, declined to elaborate on specific plans to monitor the upcoming presidential race but said her group aims to put together a “similar coalition … to rapidly address harmful false rumors about the 2024 election.”
She added, “It’s clear to me that researchers and their institutions won’t be deterred by conspiracy theorists and those seeking to smear and silence this line of research for entirely political reasons.”…