Friday 9 June 2023

UT Austin students behind CENSORSHIP initiative targeting conservative news outlets

 Students at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) were reportedly behind a censorship initiative aimed at conservative news outlets, according to a report.

Margot Cleveland, senior legal correspondent at the Federalist, pointed out in her May 25 article that the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) report was written by students under the direction of academics at UT Austin’s Global Disinformation Lab (GDIL). She added that the academics at the GDIL “held an anti-conservative bias” per internal documents reviewed by the outlet.

In early February 2023, Gabe Kaminsky authored an exclusive multi-part report “about self-styled ‘disinformation’ tracking organizations.” The first part of this report noted that the GDI’s rating of American news outlets was “skewed” against conservatives. The top 10 supposed “riskiest” outlets were all conservative:

  • American Spectator
  • Newsmax
  • Federalist
  • American Conservative
  • One America News
  • The Blaze
  • Daily Wire
  • RealClearPolitics
  • Reason
  • New York Post

In contrast, the top 10 “least risky” news outlets espoused political leanings almost entirely left of center. Included in this “least risky” list were the New York Times, notorious for its biased reporting, and CNN, a known purveyor of fake news.  

The GDI report released in December 2022 disclosed the bias against conservative outlets. This also prompted the Federalist to file a public records request with UT-Austin in February 2023. The conservative outlet demanded all communications related to the GDIL’s work with the GDI on the Mews Media Review.

The university withheld some of the details of its methodology used in the December 2022 GDI report, citing “confidentiality of trade secrets” and concerns regarding “certain commercial or financial information.” Nevertheless, the documents obtained by the Federalist revealed concerning details about the endeavor.

According to the files, the GDI paid UT Austin to have student researchers with little training apply the organization’s screening methodology for rating various media outlets. Student researchers were recruited by being informed that their work would be “immediately valuable.” However, it would only be valuable to the group as it planned to release the report early “to make waves” ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Moreover, UT Austin retained surplus funds from the GDI after the group sold the university project to the laboratory. This led critics to question how a state-funded university could profit from such a politically biased program.

Federal government bankrolled GDI censorship initiative

Kaminsky also disclosed that the White House is funding the GDI. The government-funded nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy gave the GDI more than $500,000 between 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, the Global Engagement Center (GEC) under the Department of State awarded a $100,000 grant to the group in 2021.

Internal files obtained by the Federalist also revealed that both the GDI and the GDIL worked with the State Department under the Biden administration, alongside other prominent public and private organizations, to censor conservatives.

An internal email penned by a top lab manager at the UT-Austin project said the GDI worked “with governments, policymakers, social media platforms and [advertising technology] companies to defund disinformation.”

They added: “They are instrumental in providing data to a bunch of people that I am not sure if I am allowed to talk about.” According to the manager, the GDI had formal and informal relationships with “trust and safety teams at various big [technology] platforms.”

The Federalist also shared an email to the GDIL from the GEC’s “academic and think tank liaison.” The liaison disclosed in the correspondence that the State Department had developed a close relationship with a growing number of universities and publicly funded think tanks to promote the censorship of anti-progressive views.

Moreover, another set of emails from the GEC invited the GDIL to participate in the Ukraine Content Aggregator pilot project. Based on the exchanges, the project seeks to “amplify unique and verified content related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including war crimes being committed.”

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