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 falsehoods but 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.
The National Institutes of Health froze a $150 million program intended to advance the communication of medical information, citing regulatory and legal threats. Physicians told The Post that they had planned to use the grants to fund projects on noncontroversial topics such as nutritional guidelines and not just politically charged issues such as vaccinations that have been the focus of the conservative allegations.
NIH officials sent a memo in July to some employees, warning them not to flag misleading social media posts to tech companies and to limit their communication with the public to answering medical questions.
“If the question relates in any way to misinformation or disinformation, please do not respond,” read the guidance email, sent in July after a Louisiana judge blocked many federal agencies from communicating with social media companies. NIH declined to comment on whether the guidance was lifted in light of a September appeals court ruling, which significantly narrowed the initial court order.
“In the name of protecting free speech, the scientific community is not allowed to speak,” said Dean Schillinger, a health communication scientist who planned to apply to the NIH program to collaborate with a Tagalog-language newspaper to share accurate health information with Filipinos. “Science is being halted in its tracks.” [Continue reading…]