Stanford’s top disinformation research group collapses under political pressure

Stanford’s top disinformation research group collapses under political pressure

The Washington Post reports:

The Stanford Internet Observatory, which published some of the most influential analysis of the spread of false information on social media during elections, has shed most of its staff and may shut down amid political and legal attacks that have cast a pall on efforts to study online misinformation.

Just three staffers remain at the Observatory, and they will either leave or find roles at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, which is absorbing what remains of the program, according to eight people familiar with the developments, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The Election Integrity Partnership, a prominent consortium run by the Observatory and a University of Washington team to identify viral falsehoods about election procedures and outcomes in real time, has updated its webpage to say its work has concluded.

Two ongoing lawsuits and two congressional inquiries into the Observatory have cost Stanford millions of dollars in legal fees, one of the people told The Washington Post. Students and scholars affiliated with the program say they have been worn down by online attacks and harassment amid the heated political climate for misinformation research, as legislators threaten to cut federal funding to universities studying propaganda.

Alex Stamos, the former Facebook chief security officer who founded the Observatory five years ago, moved into an advisory role in November. Observatory research manager Renée DiResta’s contract was not renewed in recent weeks.

The collapse of the Observatory is the latest and largest in a series of setbacks for the community of researchers who try to detect propaganda and explain how false narratives are manufactured, gather momentum and become accepted by various groups. It follows Harvard’s dismissal of misinformation expert Joan Donovan, who in a December whistleblower complaint alleged that the university’s close and lucrative ties with Facebook parent Meta led the university to clamp down on her work, which was highly critical of the social media giant’s practices. [Continue reading…]

Platformer reports:

SIO and its researchers have been sued three times by conservative groups alleging that its researchers colluded illegally with the federal government to censor speech, forcing Stanford to spend millions of dollars to defend its staff and students.

In parallel, Republican House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and his Orwellian “Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government” have subpoenaed documents at Stanford and other universities, selectively leaked fragments of them to friendly conservative outlets, and misrepresented their contents in public statements.

And in an actual weaponization of government, Jordan’s committee has included students — both undergraduates and graduates — in its subpoena requests, publishing their names and putting them at risk of threats or worse. [Continue reading…]

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