A new watchdog report claims that taxpayer funds are going towards research that is developing new strategies for stealthily censoring social media content.
As Just The News reports, the Foundation for Freedom Online (FFO) issued a warning about the work that was done last year by the Center for an Informed Public (CIP) at the University of Washington. The CIP received taxpayer-funded grants incentivizing the center to develop new strategies such as “virality circuit breakers” and “nudges,” which could ultimately be used to prevent certain social media content from spreading while leaving behind no trace of any alteration or manipulation of the algorithms.
The CIP study is a clear example of “how to censor people using secret methods so that they wouldn’t know they’re being censored, so that it wouldn’t generate an outrage cycle, and so that it’d be more palatable for the tech platforms who wouldn’t get blowback because people wouldn’t know they’re being censored,” said Mike Benz, the executive director of FFO and a former State Department diplomat.
CIP’s research was published last summer in the journal Nature Human Behavior, in an article titled “Combining interventions to reduce the spread of viral misinformation.” The researchers outlined four key tools that, when used properly, could reduce the spread of social media content by as much as 63 percent.
“This approach allows platforms to consider ethical ramifications while minimizing the public relations challenges accompanying direct forms of action,” the researchers wrote, admitting to the stealth element of their work. They added that their research set up a “framework…that can be adopted in the near term without requiring large-scale censorship or major advances in cognitive psychology and machine learning.”
Responding to backlash over their work, one of the researchers at the University of Washington, Jevin West, said that “this research was entirely theoretical, and aimed only to assess the impact that different potential social media interventions would have on the spread of COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation.”
“Furthermore, the paper made no policy or tactical recommendation to social media platforms or the federal government. There was no follow-up from them and we have no idea what, if anything, any of those entities did with the learnings from our paper,” West continued.
The research at CIP was funded by two different taxpayer-funded grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The first grant was worth $197,538, and was to be used on a project called “How Scientific Data, Knowledge, and Expertise Mobilize in Online Media during the COVID-19 Crisis.” The second grant, worth $550,000 was designated for a project titled “Unraveling Online Disinformation Trajectories: Applying and Translating a Mixed-Method Approach to Identify, Understand and Communicate Information Provenance.”