Ahead of the 2020 election, cybersecurity agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department partnered with Stanford University and other entities to censor the speech of conservative Americans, according to a new report released by the House Judiciary Committee and its Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
The staff report, titled “The Weaponization of ‘Disinformation’ Pseudo-experts and Bureaucrats: How the Federal Government Partnered with Universities to Censor Americans’ Free Speech,” reveals how DHS’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) coordinated with Stanford and other groups to create an “Election Integrity Partnership” (EIP) in the summer of 2020.
The federal government, disinformation “experts” at universities, Big Tech, and others worked together through the Election Integrity Partnership to monitor & censor Americans’ speech.
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) November 6, 2023
The purpose of the partnership, according to Republicans on the Weaponization Committee, was for “the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.”
The Republicans released hundreds of the nonpublic “misinformation” reports from the EIP’s reporting system, known as “Jira tickets.” When the EIP was operating, the Jira ticketing system was accessible only to select parties, including federal agencies, universities, and Big Tech.
“Stanford initially refused to produce the Jira tickets even though they were directly responsive to a subpoena,” the report states. “Facing contempt, Stanford relented and
produced Jira tickets containing thousands of links the EIP collected for censorship.”
Internal emails from EIP members reveal that the censorship enterprise— targeting true information, jokes, and political opinions—was created “at the request of DHS/CISA.” According to the report, the government-university partnership targeted Americans across the political spectrum, but especially conservatives—including then-President Donald Trump and Senator Thom Tillis, Newsmax and the Babylon Bee, and conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity, Mollie Hemingway, and Charlie Kirk.
“The pseudoscience of disinformation is now—and has always been—nothing more than a political ruse most frequently targeted at communities and individuals holding views contrary to the prevailing narratives,” the staff report says.
The genesis of the government’s censorship activities, according to the Judiciary Committee Republicans, goes back to the aftermath of Donald Trump upset 2016 election win, when “a sensationalized narrative emerged” claiming that foreign “disinformation” affected the integrity of the election.
These claims, fueled by left-wing election denialism about the legitimacy of President Trump’s victory, sparked a new focus on the role of social media platforms in spreading such information. “Disinformation” think tanks and “experts,” government task forces, and university centers were formed, all to study and combat the alleged rise in alleged mis- and disinformation. As the House Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government have shown previously, these efforts to combat so-called foreign influence and misinformation quickly mutated to include domestic—that is, American—speech.
As the Judiciary Committee Republicans explained in their report, the government’s partnership with nongovernmental entities allowed it to override Constitutional limits on its ability to monitor and censor Americans’ speech.
“These disinformation researchers (often funded, at least in part, by taxpayer dollars) were not strictly bound by these constitutional guardrails,” the report notes. “What the federal government could not do directly, it effectively outsourced to the newly emerging censorship-industrial complex.”
The EIP was comprised of a consortium of “disinformation” academics led by Stanford University’s Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) working directly with the Department of Homeland Security and the Global Engagement Center, “a multi-agency entity housed within the State Department, to monitor and censor Americans’ online speech in advance of the 2020 presidential election,” the report says.
The government cutouts “provided a way for the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.”
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the American public and lawmakers debated the merits of unprecedented, mid-election-cycle changes to election procedures. These issues, like all contemporary discourse about questions of political import, were extensively discussed on the world’s largest social media platforms—the modern town square. But as American citizens, including candidates in these elections, attempted to exercise their First Amendment rights on these platforms, their constitutionally protected speech was intentionally suppressed as a consequence of the federal government’s direct coordination with third-party organizations, particularly universities, and social media platforms.
The Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee said it will continue to investigate the Executive Branch’s collusion with third-party intermediaries to censor protected speech on social media.
“The Committee and the Select Subcommittee are responsible for investigating ‘violation[s] of the civil liberties of citizens of the United States,” the report says. “In accordance with this mandate, this interim staff report on CISA’s violations of the First Amendment and other unconstitutional activities fulfills the obligation to identify and report on the weaponization of the federal government against American citizens.”
The Committee’s and Select Subcommittee’s investigation remains ongoing. CISA still has not adequately complied with a subpoena for relevant documents, and more fact-finding is necessary. In order to better inform the Committee’s legislative efforts, the Committee and Select Subcommittee will continue to investigate how the Executive Branch worked with social media platforms and other intermediaries to censor disfavored viewpoints in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In an informative 40-minute lecture last June, former State Dept. Cyber Security expert Mike Benz discussed the networks involved in the government’s censorship industry, the scale of the enterprise and how it was funded.
My response to the Washington Post.
This is a 40-minute lecture, Part 1 in what I'd like to be an ongoing series, Censorship Industry Decoded.
This first video cut through the tricks & traps in WaPo's verbage. These tricks are stock for the industry & essential to understand. pic.twitter.com/XWHdRatY3G
— Mike Benz (@MikeBenzCyber) June 8, 2023