ON THE RUN: Anti-Free Speech Stanford Internet Observatory Is Collapsing

June 18th, 2024 9:58 AM

It’s official: the dystopian Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) is shutting down as we know it.

Following its five-year assault on free speech and mounting investigations, the Observatory has dismissed most of its staffers and directors amid widespread outcry from pro-free speech groups. These changes come as advocates, including the Media Research Center, accuse it of being nothing short of a leftist tool used to bully Big Tech platforms into suppressing dissent.

Notably, emails first reported by MRC exposed the extent to which some members of the leftist media went to prop up some of the work of SIO-related groups.

Alex Stamos, the Observatory’s founder and former Facebook chief security officer, has transitioned into an advisory role. Renée DiResta, the group’s research manager, did not receive a contract renewal, according to The Washington Post and newsletter Platformer.

The now-partially defunct Observatory aggressively tracked what the left deemed misinformation and facilitated Big Tech’s crackdown on constitutionally protected speech before the 2020 presidential election.

MRC Vice President for Free Speech Dan Schneider celebrated the Observatory’s revamping, saying, “We’ve got them where we want them. It is premature to declare victory, but even if Stanford’s censorship snake is merely shedding its skin to become a different beast, the American public is now on to them. And they know it.”

He added, “The path to restoring the First Amendment is long and arduous. We have to take our wins when we can get them. But we must persevere if we are to eventually win the war.” 

What is the Stanford Internet Observatory?

SIO was a research lab within Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center designed to stalk social media's alleged misuse by so-called misinformation perpetrators.

The SIO launched the controversial Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a consortium that included researchers from the University of Washington, led by embattled researcher Kate Starbird. The EIP monitored online content and flagged certain posts as misinformation for social media companies to censor ahead of the 2020 election.

According to emails released by the House Judiciary Committee’s Weaponization Subcommittee, the EIP was created in the summer of 2020 “at the request” of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). House Republicans also revealed that SIO partnered with CISA to flag so-called disinformation through a project management software called “Jira.”

The SIO was also behind the Virality Project, an effort to block certain COVID-19-related information. According to the Weaponization Subcommittee, the Virality Project directly flagged content inconsistent with government-approved narratives about the pandemic for social media companies to censor.

Recalling Stanford Internet Observatory’s Government and Media Ties (Because, Why Not?)

The federal government and the leftist media, of course, played a major role in the operations of the SIO.

House Republicans and unearthed documents revealed the extent of federal backing for SIO’s efforts. Emails scooped by Protect the Public Trust (PPT) showed the Department of Homeland Security referring the State Department’s Global Engagement Center to EIP for censorship plans.

“Our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security/CISA recommended we talk to you about your current efforts to protect the 2020 elections from foreign interference,” wrote then-GEC academic Adela Levis in an October 2020 email to the EIP. “There may be some synergies there with the work we’re doing. Warm regards, Adela.

Emails shared with MRC Free Speech America by PPT revealed a pattern of leftist media outlets consulting EIP for advice on misinformation before the 2020 election. This cozy relationship between the media and EIP reinforced anti-free speech narratives, said PPT executive director Michael Chamberlain. “It’s disappointing and, frankly, a little frightening that media outlets have taken up full membership in the Censorship Industrial Complex,” he told MRC in May.

Stanford University is Doubling Down on Anti-Free Speech Efforts

Worry not, anti-free speech zealots, Stanford is not backing down on its censorship efforts.

Stanford University spokesperson Dee Mostofi stated that the Observatory's efforts will continue under new leadership. "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," Mostofi claimed, according to the Platformer

Mostofi did not immediately respond to MRC Free Speech America’s request for comment before publication.

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on so-called “hate speech” and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us using MRC Free Speech America’s contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.