The Destruction of a Research Group at Stanford Marks a Dangerous Partisan Victory

Brick buildings at Stanford University
June 17, 2024

The collapse of the Stanford Internet Observatory, one of the country’s leading university-based groups assessing online misinformation, represents a serious loss in the campaign for rationality and a jarring victory for right-wing extremists.

The Washington Post explained what has happened:

The Stanford Internet Observatory, which published some of the most influential analysis of the spread of false information on social media during elections, has shed most of its staff and may shut down amid political and legal attacks that have cast a pall on efforts to study online misinformation….

Two ongoing lawsuits and two congressional inquiries into the Observatory have cost Stanford millions of dollars in legal fees, one [source] told The Washington Post. Students and scholars affiliated with the program say they have been worn down by online attacks and harassment amid the heated political climate for misinformation research, as legislators threaten to cut federal funding to universities studying propaganda.

The Observatory has been the target of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who used a House subcommittee he chairs to pursue unsubstantiated allegations that the Stanford group conspired with federal officials and social media companies to violate the free-speech rights of conservatives. Jordan subpoenaed mountains of documents from Stanford, running up the university’s legal bills, and obliged Observatory leadership to testify endlessly before Congress.

“Free speech wins again!” Jordan posted on X last Friday, falsely calling the Observatory part of a “censorship regime.”

Stephen Miller, a top adviser to former President Donald Trump, orchestrated a parallel partisan lawsuit against the group, which is still pending. The Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly in a case called Murthy v. Missouri, which includes similar accusations that the Observatory, among other organizations, colluded with the Biden administration to shut down conservatives online, in violation of the First Amendment.

All of this reflects the upside-down universe that is the Trump era of American politics. A concerted right-wing initiative to silence critics on the left is justified as an attempt to vindicate free speech and the First Amendment. More people need to speak up to identify this dangerous charade for what it is. The casualties in this clash over truth and falsehood are mounting. 


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