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The Censorship Complex Isn’t A ‘Tinfoil Hat’ Conspiracy, And The ‘Twitter Files’ Just Dropped More Proof

Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger raise their right hands before testifying about Twitter Files and Censorship Complex
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Sometimes there is a vast conspiracy at play, and the problem isn’t that someone is donning a tinfoil hat but that he’s buried his head in the sand.

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“It may be possible — if we can take off the tinfoil hat — that there is not a vast conspiracy,” Democrat Colin Allred of Texas scoffed at independent journalist Matt Taibbi during Thursday’s House Judiciary subcommittee hearing. But while Allred was busy deriding Taibbi and fellow witness, journalist Michael Shellenberger, the public was digesting the latest installment of the “Twitter Files” — which contained yet further proof that the government funds and leads a sprawling Censorship Complex.

Taibbi dropped the Twitter thread about an hour before the House Judiciary’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government hearing began. And notwithstanding the breadth and depth of the players revealed in the 17-or-so earlier installments of the “Twitter Files,” Thursday’s reporting exposed even more government-funded organizations pushing Twitter to censor speech. 

But yesterday’s thread, titled “The Censorship-Industrial Complex,” did more than merely expand the knowledge base of the various actors: It revealed that government-funded organizations sought the censorship of truthful speech by ordinary Americans. 

In his prepared testimony for the subcommittee, Shellenberger spoke of the censorship slide he saw in reviewing the internal Twitter communications. “The bar for bringing in military-grade government monitoring and speech-countering techniques has moved from ‘countering terrorism’ to ‘countering extremism’ to ‘countering simple misinformation.’ Otherwise known as being wrong on the internet,” Shellenberger testified

“The government no longer needs the predicate of calling you a terrorist or an extremist to deploy government resources to counter your political activity,” Shellenberger continued. “The only predicate it needs is the assertion that the opinion you expressed on social media is wrong.”

Being “wrong” isn’t even a prerequisite for censorship requests, however, with the Virality Project headed out of the Stanford Internet Observatory reportedly pushing “multiple platforms” to censor “true content which might promote vaccine hesitancy.” 

An excerpt showed this verboten category included “viral posts of individuals expressing vaccine hesitancy, or stories of true vaccine side effects,” which the so-called disinformation experts acknowledged might “not clearly” be “mis or disinformation, but it may be malinformation (exaggerated or misleading).” 

Silencing such speech is bad enough, but the Virality Project “added to this bucket” of “true content” worthy of censorship: “true posts which could fuel hesitancy, such as individual countries banning certain vaccines.” 

Let that sink in for a minute. The Virality Project — more on that shortly — pushed “multiple platforms” to take action against individuals posting true news reports of countries banning certain vaccines. And why? Because it might make individuals “hesitant” to receive a Covid shot.

So who is this overlord of information, the Virality Project?

The Stanford Internet Observatory reports that it launched the Virality Project in response to the coronavirus, to conduct “a global study aimed at understanding the disinformation dynamics specific to the COVID-19 crisis.” Stanford expanded the project in January 2020, “with colleagues at New York University, the University of Washington, the National Council on Citizenship, and Graphika.”

Beyond collaboration with state-funded universities, the Virality Project, in its own words, “built strong ties with several federal government agencies, most notably the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) and the CDC, to facilitate bidirectional situational awareness around emerging narratives.” According to the Virality Project’s 2022 report, “Memes, Magnets, and Microchips Narrative Dynamics Around COVID-19 Vaccines,” “the CDC’s biweekly ‘COVID-19 State of Vaccine Confidence Insights’ reports provided visibility into widespread anti-vaccine and vaccine hesitancy narratives observed by other research efforts.”

The Virality Project’s report also championed its success in engaging six Big Tech platforms — Facebook (including Instagram), Twitter, Google (including YouTube), TikTok, Medium, and Pinterest — using a “ticket” system. The social media platforms would “review and act on” reports from the Virality Project, “in accordance with their policies.” 

With the Virality Project working closely with the surgeon general and the CDC, which provided “vaccine hesitancy narratives” to the Stanford team, and the Stanford team then providing censorship requests to the tech giants, the government censorship loop was closed. 

Censorship requests were not limited to Covid-19, however, with the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Election Integrity Partnership playing a similar role in providing Twitter — and presumably other Big Tech companies — requests to remove supposed election disinformation. 

Earlier “Twitter Files” established that the Election Integrity Partnership was a conduit for censorship requests to Twitter for other government-funded entities, such as the Center for Internet Security. And in addition to receiving millions in government grants, during the 2020 election, the Center for Internet Security partnered with the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security — again completing the circle of government censorship we saw at play during the 2020 election cycle.

The groups involved in both the Election Integrity Partnership and the Virality Project are also connected by government funding. The Election Integrity Partnership boasted that it “brought together misinformation researchers” from across four organizations: the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, Graphika, and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. Both Graphika and the University of Washington also partnered with Stanford for the Virality Project, along with individuals from New York University and the National Council on Citizenship.

Beyond the taxpayer-funded state universities involved in the projects, Graphika received numerous Department of Defense contracts and a $3 million grant from the DOD for a 2021-2022 research project related to “Research on Cross-Platform Detection to Counter Malign Influence.” Graphika also received a nearly $2 million grant from the DOD for “research on Co-Citation Network Mapping and had previously researched “network mapping,” or the tracking of how Covid “disinformation” spreads through social media.

The Atlantic Council likewise receives federal funding, including a grant from the State Department’s Global Engagement Center awarded to its Digital Forensics Research Lab. And Stanford rakes in millions in federal grants as well.

The government funding of these censorship conduits is not the only scandal exposed by the “Twitter Files.” Rather, the internal communications of the social media giant also revealed that several censorship requests rested on bogus research. 

But really, that is nothing compared to what Thursday’s “Twitter Files” revealed: a request for the censorship of truthful information, including news that certain Covid shots had been banned in some countries. And that censorship request came from a group of so-called disinformation experts closely coordinating with the government and with several partners funded with government grants — just as was the case during the 2020 election.

This all goes to show that sometimes there is a vast conspiracy at play and that the problem is not that someone is donning a tinfoil hat, but that he’s buried his head in the sand.


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