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Stanford outfit that helped Biden admin 'monitor and censor Americans' online speech' is disintegrating
Rene DiResta, former research director of the Stanford Internet Observatory. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Stanford outfit that helped Biden admin 'monitor and censor Americans' online speech' is disintegrating

The censorship group appears to be winding down or going underground.

The Stanford Internet Observatory is the narrative curation outfit at Stanford University that reportedly worked hand-in-glove with the Biden administration and social media organizations to flag and clamp down on undesired speech, especially regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election.

Despite having proven their value to the powers that be, the key players at the SIO have recently abandoned ship. The newsletter Platformer, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, revealed this week that ship is now all but sunk.


The SIO was founded in 2019. It took the lead on the so-called Election Integrity Partnership, which was created in July 2020 to tackle perceived wrongthink on the right in the lead-up to the presidential election and subsequently launched the Virality Project, an initiative to tackle "the dynamics specific to the COVID-19 crisis."

The narrative curation outfit received a $748,437 grant from the National Science Foundation in 2021 "to support research into the spread of misinformation on the internet" after having demonstrated its capabilities in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

The SIO features in the Twitter Files as well as in a controversial case soon to be decided concerning some of the Biden administration's First Amendment violations.

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule on whether the Biden administration violated the Constitution when it leaned on social media companies to censor and suppress Americans' protected free speech in an effort to advance preferred narratives during the pandemic and in the years since.

The case in question, Murthy v. Missouri, got kicked up to the high court after Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana blocked various entities and personalities within the Biden administration from pressuring social media companies to censor "protected free speech" on their platform."

Having observed that the Biden administration "seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian 'Ministry of Truth,'" Judge Doughty also prohibited further governmental collaboration with the "Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, the Stanford Internet Observatory, or any like project or group for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content posted with social-media companies containing protected free speech."

According to the ruling, the SIO and its narrative-curation spin-offs worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other elements of the federal government.

'Stanford and others, in collaboration with the federal government, established the EIP for the express purpose of violating Americans' civil liberties.'

Renee DiResta, a Truman National Security Project fellow who long served as research manager at the SIO and allegedly worked for the CIA, allegedly admitted that the EIP was designed to "get around unclear legal authorities, including very real First Amendment questions" that would arise if CISA or other government agencies were to monitor and flag information for censorship on social media.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government indicated in a November report that "Stanford and others, in collaboration with the federal government, established the EIP for the express purpose of violating Americans' civil liberties: because no federal agency 'has a focus on, or authority regarding, election misinformation originating from domestic sources within the United States,' there is 'a critical gap for non-governmental entities to fill.'"

"EIP's managers both report misinformation to platforms and communicate with government partners about their misinformation reports," said Doughty's ruling. "Social-media platforms that participated in the EIP were Facebook, Instagram, Google/YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, Nextdoor, Discord, and Pinterest."

In the 2020 election cycle, the EIP processed 639 "tickets," 72% of which were related to delegitimizing the election results. Overall, social-media platforms took action on 35% of the URLs reported to them. One "ticket" could include an entire idea or narrative and was not always just one post. Less than 1% of the tickets related to "foreign interference."

The tickets "encompassed millions of social-media posts" and sometimes flagged as "misinformation" truthful reports "that the EIP believes 'lack broader context.'"

The EIP usually targeted content on the political right and allegedly "called for expansive censorship of social-media speech into other areas such as 'public health.'"

The Virality Project assumed this role when it came to the pandemic.

Matt Taibbi indicated on the basis of exposed SIO emails that after the "2020 election, when EIP was renamed the Virality Project, the Stanford lab was on-boarded to Twitter's JIRA ticketing system, absorbing this government proxy into Twitter infrastructure — with a capability of taking in an incredible 50 million tweets a day."

Taibbi highlighted that in one email, the Virality Project recommended that social media platforms take action even against "stories of true vaccine side effects" and "true posts which could fuel hesitancy."

The Virality Project, whose final 2022 report listed DiResta as principal executive director, apparently called for "more aggressive censorship of COVID-19 misinformation ... for more federal agencies to be involved through 'cross-agency collaboration,' and ... for a 'whole-of-society response.'"

"The Virality Project also targeted the alleged COVID-19 misinformation for censorship before it could go viral," said the ruling.

The ruling noted that like the EIP, the Virality Project predominantly targeted American content, in many cases without any evidence of it being false. Tucker Carlson, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Alex Berenson were among the Americans the Virality Project branded as purveyors of misinformation.

According to Taibbi, the SIO-Twitter relationship amounted to the "ultimate example of the absolute fusion of state corporate, and civil society organizations." He dubbed the result the "Censorship Industrial Complex."

Jumping ship

Platformer indicated that DiResta left the SIO last week after her contract was not renewed. Another staff member's contract apparently expired, while others at the outfit have been allegedly told to find employment elsewhere.

SIO's founding director and EIP co-founder Alex Stamos jumped ship in November, just months after he gave testimony in a transcribed interview before the House Judiciary Committee.

According to Platformer, what remains of SIO will be "reconstituted" under the lab's faculty sponsor, communications professor Jeff Hancock. The outfit's Journal of Online Trust and Safety and corresponding conference will apparently continue, thanks in the former case to the funding of the Omidyar Network.

The university has attempted to put a positive spin on the organization's ostensible dismantling, telling the newsletter in a statement, "The important work of SIO continues under new leadership, including its critical work on child safety and other online harms, its publication of the Journal of Online Trust and Safety, the Trust and Safety Research Conference, and the Trust and Safety Teaching Consortium."

"Stanford remains deeply concerned about efforts, including lawsuits and congressional investigations, that chill freedom of inquiry and undermine legitimate and much needed academic research — both at Stanford and across academia," added the university.

The House Judiciary GOP account suggested on X that this turn of events is a "BIG WIN," and Elon Musk said it was "progress."

While many free speech advocates and victims of censorship similarly celebrated the news that SIO may be winding down, others indicated similar initiatives will crop up.

Bret Weinstein noted, "The enemies of freedom will morph, and regroup, of course. We should expect them — and the natural immunity we now have should shut them down whenever and wherever the infection re-emerges."

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.
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