‘Big win’: House Judiciary cheers reported dismantling of Stanford Internet Observatory

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The Stanford Internet Observatory is reportedly winding down after the departure of its two top leaders, a development hailed by free-speech advocates who accused the project of promoting widespread online censorship in the name of combating “misinformation.”

The five-year-old lab is “being dismantled” following the departure last November of its founder, Alex Stamos, and its research director, Renee DiResta, just last week after her contract was not renewed, according to a Thursday report in the tech-insider blog Platformer.

“House Republicans attacked the lab’s reports on misinformation and election integrity — and now Stanford is pulling the plug,” said the outlet, which also reported that other lab staffers have been told to “look for jobs elsewhere.”

The observatory has come under increasing congressional and legal pressure over its work with the Department of Homeland Security during the 2020 election, spurring an investigation by the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

America First Legal sued the lab last year over its role with the Virality Project, which sought to crack down on Covid-19 “disinformation,” and the Election Integrity Project, which was founded in 2020 to “defend our elections against those who seek to undermine them by exploiting weaknesses in the online information environment.”

The project said it “finished its work after the 2022 election and will not be working on the 2024 or future elections.”

Stanford University denied that the lab was being dismantled, saying that the “important work of SIO continues under new leadership.” But word of the project’s decline was cheered by free-speech proponents such as billionaire X owner Elon Musk, who called it “Progress.”

“Free speech wins again!” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan on X. “Great work from @Weaponization for shining a light on the censorship regime.”

The House Judiciary Committee chimed in on X: “BIG WIN.”

— House Judiciary GOP 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 (@JudiciaryGOP) June 14, 2024

In April 2023, the committee subpoenaed the lab as part of its investigation into “how and to what extent the Executive Branch has coerced or colluded with companies and other intermediaries to censor lawful speech,” later conducting a transcribed interview with Mr. Stamos.

“Victory! Stanford Shuts Down Censorship Operation,” said Michael Shellenberger, founder of Public, an investigative journalism site on Substack.

He said Ms. DiResta “spread disinformation exaggerating the influence of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election” and “successful pressured social media platforms to censor favored views of Covid and interfere in the 2020 elections.”

“Now, in a major victory for free speech advocates, SIO has decided not to renew its contracts with DiResta and Stamos, who have both left the organization,” Mr. Shellenberger said.

Those lauding the lab’s work include The Verge, which said Friday that its research “centers on some of the most pressing types of abuse online, including threats to democracy and elections, artificial intelligence, and child sexual abuse material.”

Stanford praised the lab’s “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,” said the university in a statement to Platformer.

The Washington Times has reached out to the Stanford Internet Observatory for comment.

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