Stanford Internet Observatory ditching outsourced election censorship following lawsuits, subpoenas

Stanford denies the group is shutting down, just that its "important work continues under new leadership," but House Judiciary GOP claims "BIG WIN."

Published: June 14, 2024 10:39am

The Stanford Internet Observatory, the co-leader in a Department of Homeland Security-conceived private consortium to flag and mass-report alleged misinformation for removal in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, will reportedly not "conduct research into the 2024 election or other elections in the future" as its controversial federally tinged work became embroiled in lawsuits and congressional subpoenas.

"Silicon Valley and democracy" newsletter Platformer reports the group is "winding down," crediting unnamed sources: founding director Alex Stamos left in November, research director Renee DiResta, whom Stamos said has "worked for the CIA," left last week "after her contract was not renewed," another staffer's contract expired and others were told "look for jobs elsewhere."

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., put renewed and likely unwanted attention on the feds' relationship with the Election Integrity Partnership last month by claiming the public and private sectors were communicating again about removing purported election misinformation, even as the Supreme Court decides whether the federal role in private censorship is constitutional.

EIP had a 35% success rate in the 2020 election cycle, by its own tracking, in convincing tech platforms to suppress narratives, overwhelmingly by conservatives, through labeling, removal and soft-blocking, meaning users had to reject a warning to see them. Just the News itself was targeted in the system.

Stanford disputed the organization was shutting down, telling Platformer 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."

Communications professor Jeff Hancock will incorporate the ongoing work into his Stanford Social Media Lab, according to Platformer.

The university decried "lawsuits and congressional investigations" that it said were chilling free inquiry and undermining academic research "both at Stanford and across academia."

House Judiciary Committee Republicans celebrated the "BIG WIN" following their efforts, including a transcribed interview with Stamos in which he allegedly couldn't explain references to DHS's direct role in the group, specifically its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. X owner Elon Musk called it "progress."

SIO itself has not used its X account in nearly a year. 

Stanford medical professor Jay Bhattacharya, a plaintiff in the First Amendment lawsuit about public-private collusion to censor narratives now before SCOTUS, noted Thursday that Stanford filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of SIO's role in federally tinged censorship, calling it First Amendment-protected research.

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