The Biden administration awarded millions of federal dollars to members of four private groups that worked with the departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State during the 2020 election to censor social media posts they deemed ‘misinformation’ – according to an in-depth analysis of documents obtained by Just the News.
The four groups in question – Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, and social media analytics firm Graphika – comprise the “Election Integrity Partnership,” which exists as a ‘concierge-like’ service for federal agencies such as Homeland’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and State’s Global Engagement Center to flag online content for censorship or monitoring by Big Tech using a “ticket” system.
Unsurprisingly, the head of Stanford’s Internet Observatory is a Clinton donor who previously served as Facebook’s Head of Security – while the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public is largely funded by the Knight Foundation, whose board exclusively contributes to Demorat or Neocon entities (a few examples here, here, here, here, here, here, hereand here).
Meanwhile, the Biden administration empowered three liberal groups to file tickets seeking censorship; the Democratic National Committee, Common Cause and the NAACP.
In its own after-action report on the 2020 election, the consortium boasted it flagged more than 4,800 URLs — shared nearly 22 million times on Twitter alone — for social media platforms. Their staff worked 12-20 hour shifts from September through mid-November 2020, with “monitoring intensif[ying] significantly” the week before and after Election Day.
The tickets sought removal, throttling and labeling of content that raised questions about mail-in ballot integrity, Arizona’s “Sharpiegate,” and other election integrity issues of concern to conservatives.
The consortium achieved a success rate in 2020 that would be enviable for baseball batters: Platforms took action on 35% of flagged URLs, with 21% labeled, 13% removed and 1% soft-blocked, meaning users had to reject a warning to see them. The partnership couldn’t determine how many were downranked. -Just the News
First Amendment be damned
The operation falls under a legal gray-area, in that the First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing laws that abridge free speech – while courts have ruled that this extends to federal agencies funded by the legislative branch.
“The government knows that they cannot do it by themselves because of the First Amendment of the Constitution,which prohibits it,” said Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), a a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, in a statement to JTN. “And then they decide to partner with another entity, a private entity. a social media platform or university. “
“And then they say, ‘Hey, we’re going to feed you information that we think is disinformation, or we want to be disinformation. And then you go ahead and you do the de-platforming. You label it as misinformation, or disinformation.’”
And according to the report, participants in the censorship consortium were acutely aware that their effort strayed into uncharted legal territory.
For example, Stanford’s Renee DiResta (who previously worked for a firm that created a ‘false flag‘ against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore) noted in a 2021 CISA Cybersecurity Summit video that the effort faced “unclear legal authorities” and “very real First Amendment questions.”
Also, we’re getting the band back together (with several improvements) for the midterms — working with a range of collaborators to address rumors, misinformation, and disinformation around election processes and procedures: https://t.co/IuwvV27R1L. Follow @2020Partnership.— Kate Starbird (@katestarbird) August 7, 2022
Former State Department official Mike Benz told Just the News that the censorship consortium was the largest federally-funded censorship operation he had ever seen – and a precursor to the Disinformation Governance Board, which was scrapped after public outcry over the highly-partisan and Orwellian nature of the organization. Benz runs the nonprofit, Foundation for Freedom Online, which advocates for free speech globally while monitoring US censorship.
“If you trace the chronology, you find that there was actually 18 months’ worth of institutional work to create this very apparatus that we now know played a significant role in the censorship of millions of posts for the 2020 election and has ambitious sights for 2022 and 2024,” he told Just the News. “Amazingly, there are now so many Ministry of Truth functionaries within the Department of Homeland Security.”
“There are so many Ministry of Truth tasks, so many Ministry of Truth points of contact, so many different Ministry of Truth, policies for whether to remove something, reduce it, slap a fact checking label on it.”
Rep. Clyde, meanwhile, says he expects Republicans to investigate the consortium next year if they regain control of Congress – and that he’s drafting a piece of legislation called the ‘Free Speech Defense Act’ to address censorship issues.
“This bill would prevent the federal government from labeling anything through a proxy entity, like a social media company, as disinformation, labeling it as misinformation or labeling it as true,” he told JTN. “And then it would also give an opportunity for those people who have been injured by it to take legal action.”
Censoring right-leaning media
The consortium didn’t just target blogs and individual social media users – the censorship czars also went after news and opinion organizations such as the New York Post, Fox News, Just the News and SeanHannity.com (ZeroHedge included).
The partnership’s members published the 292-page public report in March 2021, though the most recent version is dated June 15, 2021. The launch webinar featured former CISA Director Christopher Krebs, “who led the effort to secure electoral infrastructure and the response to mis- and disinformation during the election period.”
During the launch webinar, the Atlantic Council’s Emerson Brooking said they wanted to stop the “amplification and legitimation” of “far-right influencers [who] would be doing all they could to try to catch the eye of a Fox News producer,” making it likely that President Trump, “the social media death star,” would see their content.
Government entities were involved in real-time chats with the partnership and social media platforms over specific content under review.
A chat screenshot in the report shows an unidentified government partner rejecting the Sharpiegate claim that “sharpies aren’t read at all” by ballot-counting machines, and a platform provider responding that it was now reviewing those claims. -JTN
“I think we were pretty effective in getting [platforms] to act on things they haven’t acted on before,” said SIO founder Stamos.
Meanwhile, the censorship partners all received federal grants from the Biden administration over the next two years.
In August 2021, the National Science Foundation awarded the Stanford and UW projects $3 million “to study ways to apply collaborative, rapid-response research to mitigate online disinformation.”
Octant Data (aka Graphika), received nearly $3 million from the Department of Defense right after the 2020 election for unspecified “research on cross-platform detection to counter malign influence” – with almost 2 million more awarded in fall 2021 for “research on co-citation network mapping” to track sources that are cited together.
The Atlantic Council, which hosted then-VP Biden in 2011 for a keynote address, has received $4.7 million in grants since 2021.
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