Stanford’s ‘Internet Observatory’ Censorship Machine Crumbles Under Its Own Weight

women protest censorship

The Stanford Internet Observatory, a research center studying “online misinformation” and a prominent part of what Stephen Miller calls the “censorship-industrial complex,” is on the brink of shutting down due to mounting political and legal pressures, as well as dwindling staff and funding.

The Washington Post reports that The Stanford Internet Observatory, a research center dedicated to studying “online misinformation,” is facing an uncertain future as it grapples with political and legal challenges, staff departures, and funding issues. The Observatory, which has recently been absorbed by Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, has seen its staff reduced to just three members, with the remaining employees set to either leave or find new roles within the Cyber Policy Center.

The Observatory, founded five years ago by Alex Stamos, a former Facebook chief security officer, claims to have been at the forefront of analyzing the spread of false information on social media during elections. In practice, it became a prominent cog in the leftist censorship machine. The program has been the target of political and legal attacks, which have taken a toll on its operations. Stamos himself has moved into an advisory role since November, while research manager Renée DiResta’s contract was not renewed in recent weeks.

Dr. Joan Donovan of Harvard

Censorship advocate Dr. Joan Donovan, formerly of Harvard (Georgetown University/YouTube)

The Observatory’s challenges have been compounded by two ongoing lawsuits and two congressional inquiries, which have cost Stanford millions of dollars in legal fees. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), whose House subcommittee alleges the Observatory improperly worked with federal officials and social media companies to violate the free-speech rights of conservatives, has been leading the charge against the program. Jordan has demanded extensive documentation from Stanford, including records of students discussing social media posts as they volunteered to help the Observatory.

The collapse of the Observatory is a significant setback for the community of leftist researchers who claim to detect propaganda and explain how false narratives are created, gain traction, and become accepted by various groups. It follows the dismissal of misinformation expert Joan Donovan from Harvard, who alleged in a whistleblower complaint that the university’s close ties with Facebook parent Meta led to the suppression of her critical work on the social media giant’s practices. Ironically, Donovan has been accused of spreading misinformation about how and why she was fired by Harvard.

Stanford University spokesperson Dee Mostofi stated that much of the Observatory’s work is continuing under new leadership, including research on child safety, online harms, and the publication of the Journal of Online Trust and Safety. However, the university remains deeply concerned about lawsuits and congressional investigations.

Funding has also been a significant challenge for the Observatory, with major, time-limited grants from the Hewlett Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and others ending without comparable new grants materializing. Staff had hoped that Stanford might step in to fund the group through the November election, but the university risks alienating conservative donors, Silicon Valley figures, and members of Congress who have threatened to stop all federal funding for disinformation research or cut back general support.

Read more at the Washington Post here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship.


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