A new report from Just the News has revealed a scheme assembled for the 2020 presidential election in which the federal government conspired with private groups to censor messages it didn’t like because it was prohibited by the First Amendment from doing that directly.
The report explains it was a coalition of four private groups that took orders from the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to “censor massive numbers of social media posts they considered misinformation.”
Those private groups “then got rewarded with millions of federal dollars from the Biden administration afterward,” the report said documents confirm.
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It was the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, and social media analytics firm Graphika who assembled a “concierge-like service.”
Under its guidelines federal agencies like Homeland’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency and State’s Global Engagement Center were allowed to file “tickets” requesting that specific online store links and social media posts be censored or flagged by Big Tech, the report said.
That service also was provided to the Democratic National Committee, Common Cause, and the NAACP, as well as the Homeland-funded collaboration, called the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center.
The operation itself boasted of sending out information-suppression instructions on more than 4,800 URLs – share nearly 22 million times on Twitter alone – for social media platforms to take action.
“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,” Just the News reported.
Social media companies responded by taking “action” on 35% of the flagged URLs, labeling 21% of them and removing 13%. Another 1% had a warning posted on them.
The program did for the government entities what they were not allowed constitutionally to do themselves, as Just the News explained, “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from passing any laws that abridge free speech, and courts have ruled that prohibition extends to federal agencies funded by the legislative branch.”
And the participants were keenly aware they were doing an end run.
“For instance, SIO’s Renee DiResta said in a CISA Cybersecurity Summit video in 2021 that the operation faced ‘unclear legal authorities’ and ‘very real First Amendment questions.’ She joined SIO from a firm exposed by The New York Times for creating a ‘false flag’ operation’ against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.”
Just the News reported many of the details about the scheming were uncovered by Mike Benz, a former State Department official who assembled the Foundation for Freedom Online to advocate for free speech globally.
“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 said. “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.”
In fact, the Biden administration followed this with a formal plan for a “disinformation” ministry that, when revealed to the American public, attracted such a backlash its formalization was dropped, for now.
Just the News reported Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, was stunned by the revelations.
“The government knows that they cannot do it by themselves because of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits it,” he said on the “Just the News, Not Noise” television show. “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.'”
He said he is drafting legislation to address the government’s use of private groups to violate the First Amendment.
Homeland Security, CISA, EIP, and the Stanford and UW projects did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment from Just the News.
Among those targeted were the New York Post, Fox News, Just the News, and SeanHannity.com.
The report also revealed the partners in the group “all received federal grants from the Biden administration in the next two years. The National Science Foundation awarded the Stanford and UW projects $3 million in August 2021 ‘to study ways to apply collaborative, rapid-response research to mitigate online disinformation.'”
Graphika got nearly $3 million in a grant from the Department of Defense and the Atlantic Council has received $4.7 million in grants since 2021.