Stanford’s Censorship: The End of the Stanford Internet Observatory

Stanford’s Censorship: The End of the Stanford Internet Observatory

The Stanford Internet Observatory’s reign of censorship is finally coming to an end. The group, part of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, has been investigating misinformation and social media abuse for five years. Now, it is reportedly being dismantled.

Although the Stanford Internet Observatory, or SIO, pledged its work was to “defend democracy,” it trampled on founding American principles as it sought to implement a censorship regime to quiet those questioning the political establishment. The SIO would likely stay afloat if it had merely been conducting research. However, since the organization’s conception, it has been a key player in divisive government schemes to suppress and limit freedom of speech—ultimately leading to its demise. 

The SIO’s role in monitoring and censoring online speech has garnered widespread political and legal scrutiny for stifling protected speech in conjunction with the federal government. The SIO-led so-called Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), composed of the University of Washington, Graphika Inc., and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), silenced anti-mainstream narratives at the height of the 2020 presidential race in blatant disregard of the First Amendment.

Emails from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) reveal that the federal agency secretly collaborated with the EIP to censor vast amounts of speech deemed “threatening” and “dangerous” to its agenda. Journalist Matt Taibbi’s reporting detailed Stanford’s abandonment of free expression, open discourse, and intellectual diversity as it aided CISA in an unprecedented crackdown against political topics damaging to Democrats and the pro-lockdown left.

CISA and the EIP never cared about democracy. They did not even aim to protect the American public from misinformation, as shown by the dismissal of the Hunter Biden laptop story and COVID-19 origin “conspiracy theories,” later revealed as anything but. Instead, they wanted to dictate a false reality and silence those who dared to question it. 

Taibbi’s reporting instead reveals a conspiracy by federal agencies and left-wing non-profits, including MITRE, Omidyar Network, Common Cause, the Democratic National Committee, the Defending Digital Democracy Project, and the NAACP, which provided misinformation reports to Stanford and the EIP. In 2023, a federal district judge found this practice violated the First Amendment in Murthy v. Missouri—a decision now under review by the Supreme Court. These highly partisan organizations, including the Stanford-backed EIP, were given governmental influence and power to decide what “disinformation” was in a campaign to suppress inconvenient truths.

The Stanford students hired by the SIO were complicit in the mass censorship and manipulation of public opinion. Teams of students were asked to use algorithms to flag content on various social media platforms that challenged mainstream narratives; many of Stanford’s tech-focused students were employed to perpetuate a dystopian thought control scheme.

However, as Taibbi’s investigation showed, the EIP is only the tip of the iceberg. Another project called the Virality Project, led by the SIO in collaboration with the Office of the Surgeon General, the CDC, DHS’s CISA, and the State Department's Global Engagement Center, was identified as a pseudo-truth machine weaponized for the suppression of “misinformation.” Project clients included several Facebook contracts, one Project Vox-Google contract, and one NGO contract for COVID-19 hoax tracking. Like the EIP, the Virality Project encouraged social media platforms to take action even against “stories of true vaccine side effects” and “true posts which could fuel hesitancy.”

The Virality Project was more concerned with maintaining control over the public through their narrative rather than promoting free speech and discussion surrounding medical autonomy and concerns over the COVID-19 vaccine’s rapid development. As a result, it did not allow people to read about possible vaccine side effects, such as myocarditis. Even Stanford’s medically qualified dissenting voices, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and Dr. Scott Atlas, who spoke out against former NIAID Director Anthony Fauci’s pandemic response and lockdowns, were censored by social media platforms for exercising their freedom of speech.

This behavior disproves claims that the SIO was acting out of a genuine desire to prevent the spread of disinformation, but rather to prevent the spread of information that was inconvenient or ran counter to progressive dogma. The SIO’s pathetic response, stating, “it is difficult to rebut all of these inaccurate claims without repeating the falsehoods and contributing to their further spread,” underscores its lack of interest in serving the American people or furthering open discourse. The organization’s total dismissal of concerns about the gravity of their actions exposes these cowards for what they are: a power-hungry bureaucracy aiming to control Americans’ behavior with complete disregard for their liberties.

While the SIO’s collapse is a massive step in the right direction, we must be wary of our government’s continued antagonism toward freedom of speech. With the 2024 election approaching, we cannot be silent about Stanford’s—or any other institution’s— disregard for First Amendment rights. Almost always, such acts are done under the insidious guise of “safety.” Safety without liberty is tyranny with a bike helmet and swim floaties. We must reject this mantra as the evil that it is. Give me liberty, or give me… well, you know the rest. 

Ultimately, it does not matter whether the claims censored by the SIO were correct. The First Amendment does not only protect our ability to make accurate statements but to say whatever we want. In America, it is up to each citizen to discern what is true and what is false, not the government.

Our universities ought to be havens of academic freedom, and our government has no right to tell us what we can and cannot say and which opinions we can and cannot hear. It is time for everyone, regardless of political affiliation, to demand that the federal government and universities not trample on our rights. The United States was never meant to be an echo chamber. If we do not push back now, we may lose the very core of our country: freedom.

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