The for-profit censorship giant NewsGuard is now selling its “Misinformation Fingerprints” technology to private companies to silence Americans’ speech — technology the federal government helped NewsGuard develop to the tune of nearly $750,000 in taxpayer funding. So while NewsGuard is now making headlines for trying to take down Elon Musk’s X, the bigger story concerns the federal government’s funding of the censorship-industrial complex.
NewsGuard launched a Thanksgiving-week attack on the social media company former known as Twitter, claiming some 200 ads from prominent advertisers appeared on feeds of users spreading lies about the Israel-Hamas war. Elon Musk returned fire, calling NewsGuard “a propaganda shop” that “uses these reports to pressure companies to buy their ‘fact-checking’ services.”
“It’s a profit over any principle model,” the X owner countered.
The verbal sparring between Musk and NewsGuard is likely to continue for some time, but the war on free speech being waged by NewsGuard extends much beyond X and is being subsidized by our tax dollars.
“In September 2021, NewsGuard was awarded a grant through the Small Business Innovation and Research program, which funds early-stage companies to develop products and technologies that can be helpful for government,” NewsGuard announced in its 2021 Social Impact Report. “Under the grant,” the report explained, “NewsGuard plans to further develop the Misinformation Fingerprints tool and test the effectiveness of the Fingerprints in detecting state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.”
Federal records show the Department of Defense funded the Small Business Innovation and Research program’s award of nearly $750,000 to NewsGuard for the further development and testing of the Misinformation Fingerprints tool. And according to NewsGuard’s 2021 Social Impact Report, its “Misinformation Fingerprints” catalog traced “762 false narratives,” “providing one-of-a-kind tracking seeds for the AI tools used by defense industry clients.”
By the following year, NewsGuard reported in its 2022 Social Impact Report that its “Misinformation Fingerprints” technology had accumulated 1,122 supposedly false narratives and been “deployed at scale” — including by social media companies. Since then, NewsGuard has highlighted the use of the Misinformation Fingerprints tool by social media companies “seeking to mitigate falsehoods on their platforms…”
“For example the Ethos Network, an ethical social media app targeting Gen-Z users, has integrated NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints and associated ‘debunks’ into its user interface,” NewsGuard bragged, claiming its technology enabled “users to verify the content of their posts before publishing them.”
In addition to the Ethos Network, NewGuard reports that GIPHY, the online search engine and database of GIFS, was one of the first companies to use the Misinformation Fingerprints dataset, “to quickly identify and address content that risks spreading misinformation through its platform.” Microsoft also uses NewsGuard’s “fingerprints” technology “to train Bing Chat.”
NewsGuard currently markets its Misinformation Fingerprints technology to a variety of entities, including tech giants and organizations with AI and social-listening tools. That technology, NewsGuard promises, allows false claims to be intercepted, while facilitating the sharing of accurate information.
Like its other offerings, NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints tool relies on the research of its supposedly “trained analysts and misinformation experts,” meaning that the same defects seen in its rating of news outlets likely permeate the Misinformation Fingerprints. NewsGuard also markets its Misinformation Fingerprints to be used “in conjunction with NewsGuard’s reliability ratings,” promoting that combined technology to the advertising industry to be used to “redirect ad spend away from purveyors of misinformation and towards sources of quality journalism.”
American taxpayers thus paid for NewsGuard “to further develop the Misinformation Fingerprints tool,” which NewsGuard then deployed at scale, marketing the censorship technology to social media companies and advertisers to silence and starve disfavored speech. And because NewsGuard worked with the Department of Defense “to test the effectiveness of the Fingerprints in detecting state-sponsored disinformation campaigns,” it seems likely the government had some input in determining what qualified as “disinformation.”
NewsGuard has since attempted to walk back its earlier boast that it had received a government grant to develop its Misinformation Fingerprints tool, framing the $750,000 award as a licensing fee. But whether a grant or a licensing fee, the scandal remains the same: Our government funded and helped develop censorship technology designed to silence American speech. And the award to NewsGuard is just one example, with the federal government awarding more than 500 contracts or grants related to so-called mis- or disinformation since 2020.
These facts also should not be considered in isolation, but rather viewed in light of the federal government’s efforts over the last five years to coerce social media companies to censor disfavored speech.
So yes, NewsGuard’s efforts to silence speech and to destroy the financial survival of disfavored outlets and social media companies is a problem. However, fighting NewsGuard’s anti-American attack on free speech isn’t enough. Rather, it is the totality of the federal government’s efforts to control speech that must be destroyed — or our freedom of speech will be.