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Karma Catches Up to the Stanford Internet Observatory

Karma Catches Up to the Stanford Internet Observatory

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Karma has caught up with the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), which will be scaled back to just three staff, according to the Washington Post. The contracts of its leading protagonists, Alex Stamos and Renee DiResta, have not been renewed. It was former CIA fellow Renee DiResta who led SIO’s signature initiatives, the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) and the Virality Project (VP).

SIO’s demise is a result of a string of efforts including those of RacketPublic, the Murthy v. Missouri plaintiffs, the New Civil Liberties Alliance, the Disinformation Chronicle, the Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, and many more. Network Affects also contributed original research.

Founded with a $5 million donation from Craig Newmark, SIO took countering “misinformation” to new heights; the Virality Project advised its Big Tech partners to consider “true stories” to be “misinformation:”

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I unearthed that document while assisting Matt Taibbi with Twitter Files research, just in time for his and Michael Shellenberger’s testimony before the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. It is perhaps the most egregious example of the internet research and digital rights fields 180°– an inorganic flip that undermined a decades-long commitment to free expression.

Inorganic because the EIP and VP were not “research initiatives” as is often claimed; they were seeded by the security state, namely the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as demonstrated by emails released by the House Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Below the Atlantic Council’s Graham Brookie (an EIP/VP project partner) explains that “we just set up an election integrity partnership at the request of DHS/CISA:”

The Atlantic Council is essentially NATO’s think tank and its board includes Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Secretary General of NATO the Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson, former US Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta, Goldman Sachs Secretary of the Board John F. W. Rogers, and many, many more

As Taibbi further demonstrated, Twitter was aware of EIP’s links to the intelligence community:

So when content takedown recommendations came onto Twitter, they knew they were more than just serving suggestions.

The content of those requests was made clear after SIO was forced to release details of their internal flagging system. This again, via Taibbi’s reporting:

Furthermore, VP was in close contact with the White House and hosted Surgeon General Murphy for a discussion on health “misinformation.”

They also had pipeline-level access to more than 50 million Covid-related tweets per day:

This was in no way an insignificant research project.

VP pushed to censor other academics, such as Martin Kuldorff, a former Harvard Professor of Epidemiology and former member of the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Subgroup. As Alex Gutentag and I reported, VP  “played a major role” in censoring Kuldorff. On March 15, 2021, Kulldorff tweeted, “Thinking that everyone must be vaccinated is as scientifically flawed as thinking that nobody should. COVID vaccines are important for older high-risk people, and their care-takers. Those with prior natural infection do not need it. Nor children.”

VP flagged the tweet to Twitter and it was subsequently labelled as “misleading” and Kuldorff was temporarily suspended from the platform.” VP also marked him as a “repeat offender.” 

However many outlets describe SIO’s demise as the result of “sustained right-wing campaign” by “conservative outlets” and ignore the corruption at the heart of the project. Predictably Stanford, DiResta, Stamos, and their supporters shout “Everything is right-wing” as they scramble to come up with a narrative that deflects accountability for their actions.

The truth is just that SIO was doing something egregiously wrong and was targeting people regardless of ideology. Those reporters could easily find that out – the lead tweet of Taibbi’s House testimony has been viewed more than 40 million times:

Stamos and DiResta will of course find other work. Stamos already has, starting a company with former CISA head Chris Krebs. Meanwhile, DiResta has a new book out – endorsed surprisingly by Jonathan Haidt, who was also among the top signatories of the Westminster Declaration. Despite SIO crumbling accountability still appears to be sorely lacking. DiResta appeared top of the bill at a recent Yale conference on propaganda.

It should never have gone this far; a properly self-regulating anti-disinformation field would have sniffed out bad actors early, but the conversation and the ecosystem are broken. SIO shouldn’t be the last center to be shut down or see leadership changes. Breaking basic research ethics, hiding your relationship with government and intelligence agencies, protecting corporate products from proper scrutiny, and pushing for the censorship of other academics is not “free academic inquiry” or “free speech;” it is corruption.

My non-profit, liber-net, will be strengthening our efforts over the coming months to bring accountability to other leading civil society censorship initiatives.

Meanwhile, SIO leaves a malign legacy, having damaged the reputation of the anti-disinformation field, and academia more broadly. The question is, will the anti-disinformation field clean house, or continue to ignore the corruption within its ranks?

Links to my past Stanford Internet Observatory and Virality Project-related content can be found below.

Stanford’s Virality Project pushed to censor the vaccine-injured

The Virality Project was a government front to coordinate censorship

Stanford Group Helped US Government Censor Covid Dissidents and Then Lied About It, New Documents Show

Twitter Files Extra: How the World’s “No-Kidding Decision Makers” Got Organized

Republished from the author’s Substack



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Author

  • Andrew Lowenthal

    Andrew Lowenthal is a Brownstone Institute fellow, journalist, and the founder and CEO of liber-net, a digital civil liberties initiative. He was co-founder and Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific digital rights non-profit EngageMedia for almost eighteen years, and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and MIT’s Open Documentary Lab.

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