BY: MARGOT CLEVELAND | MAY 03, 2023
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The members of the Election Integrity Partnership and Virality Project conspired with state, local, and federal government officials to violate the First Amendment rights of social media users, a class-action lawsuit filed on Tuesday in a Louisiana federal court alleged.
Over the course of the 88-page complaint, the named plaintiffs, Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft and Co-Director of Health Freedom Louisiana Jill Hines, detailed extensive direct and indirect government involvement with the defendants’ censorship activities, allegedly making the private entities and individuals “state actors” for purposes of the Constitution.
Here are the highlights of the government’s alleged connection to the defendants’ censorship activities.
A Bit About the Defendants
Formed in 2020, the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) describes itself as a partnership “between four of the nation’s leading institutions focused on understanding misinformation and disinformation in the social media landscape: the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, Graphika, and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.” In early 2021, the same four entities expanded their focus to address supposed Covid-19 “misinformation” on social media, calling the effort the “Virality Project.”
In both the run-up to the 2020 election and since then, EIP and the Virality Project pushed Big Tech companies to censor speech. Excepting the University of Washington, which was not named in the class-action lawsuit, the institutions involved in the EIP and Virality Project are private entities, and the individuals running those institutions are non-governmental actors. Thus, without more, the censorship efforts would not implicate the First Amendment.
The Alleged Conspiracy
But there was more — much more — a conspiracy between the defendants, according to the complaint. Those defendants include the Stanford Internet Observatory and the Leland Stanford Junior University and its board of trustees, the latter two of which are allegedly legally responsible for the observatory’s conduct; Alex Stamos, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory; Renée DiResta, the Stanford Internet Observatory’s research manager; the Atlantic Council; the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab; and Graham Brookie, the senior director of the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab.
In support of the alleged conspiracy, the plaintiffs quoted at length the defendants’ own words, much of it culled from the EIP’s post-election report, but also pulled from interviews and its webpage. Here we see the EIP boast of its “coalition” that exchanged information with “election officials, government agencies,” and “social media platforms.” “The work carried out by the EIP and its partners during the 2020 U.S. election,” the defendants stressed, “united government, academia, civil society, and industry, analyzing across platforms, to address misinformation in real time.”
The united goal, according to the complaint, was censorship. This is clear from Stamos’ Aug. 26, 2020, comment to The New York Times, when the Stanford Observatory director explained that the EIP sought to collaborate with Big Tech to remove “disinformation.” The EIP further explained that it saw itself filling the “critical gap” of monitoring supposed election “misinformation” inside the United States — a gap the EIP recognized existed because the First Amendment prevents the government from censoring speech.
But the EIP did not act alone. In fact, the EIP was created “in consultation” with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, with the idea for the EIP allegedly originating from CISA interns who were Stanford students. The CISA then assisted Stanford as it sought to “figure out what the gap was” the EIP needed to address. Two weeks before EIP officially launched, Stanford also met “with CISA to present EIP concept.”
Government Collaboration with EIP
The government continued to work with EIP after its formation. Both federal and state-level government officials submitted “tickets” or reports of supposed misinformation to EIP, which would then submit them to the social media companies for censorship. EIP’s post-election report identified government partners who submitted tips of misinformation, including CISA, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), and the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, the last of which received reports of disinformation from state and local government officials. EIP would then forward the complaints to the social media companies for censorship.
CISA also helped EIP by connecting it with election-official groups, such as the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors, both of which represent state and local government officials. CISA facilitated meetings between EIP and those groups as well, leading to censorship requests fed to the EIP and then forwarded to social media companies.
The government’s entanglement with the censorship efforts of EIP was more pronounced when it came to the Center for Internet Security because CISA both funded the Center for Internet Security and directed state and local election officials to report supposed misinformation to it. CISA further connected the Center for Internet Security to EIP, resulting in the former feeding the latter a substantial number of misinformation tickets. EIP then pushed those censorship requests to social media companies.
Later, as the 2020 election neared, CISA coordinated with the Center for Internet Security and EIP “to establish a joint reporting process,” with the three organizations agreeing to “let each other know what they were reporting to platforms like Twitter.”
The individuals responsible for EIP, including Stamos, DiResta, and Kate Starbird, all “have or had formal roles in CISA.” Both Stamos and Starbird are members of CISA’s Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, while DiResta is a “Subject Matter Expert” for a CISA subcommittee.
Additionally, two of the six CISA members who “took shifts” in reporting supposed misinformation to Big Tech companies apparently worked simultaneously as interns for CISA and at the Stanford Internet Observatory and EIP, reporting “misinformation” to the social media companies on behalf of both CISA and EIP. In fact, the two interns reported “misinformation” to platforms on behalf of CISA by using “EIP ticket numbers.” One of the CISA interns also forwarded a detailed report of supposed “misinformation” from the Election Integrity Partnership to social media companies using CISA’s reporting system.
Coordination with Virality Project
As noted above, after the 2020 election, the Election Integrity Project replicated its censorship efforts to combat so-called Covid “misinformation” through the Virality Project. The Virality Project used the foundations established with the government’s assistance for the EIP and continued to collaborate with government officials and Big Tech.
The Virality Project boasted of its “strong ties with several federal government agencies, most notably the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) and the CDC.” The Virality Project also identified “federal health agencies” and “state and local public health officials” as “stakeholders” who “provided tips, feedback and requests to assess specific incidents and narratives.” And as was the case with the Election Integrity Project, the Virality Project flagged content for censorship by social media companies, including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, through a ticket system.
While it was those private platforms that censored Hoft, Hines, and an untold number of other Americans, the class-action complaint establishes it was the government that initiated and pushed for that censorship, while hiding behind EIP and other organizations. And because EIP allegedly conspired with the government to silence the plaintiffs’ speech, the class-action lawsuit seeks to hold it liable too.
The defendants have some time before responding. When they do, they’ll likely seek to have the lawsuit tossed, arguing they aren’t the government and thus could not violate the First Amendment. The detailed allegations of collaboration with the government make it unlikely they will succeed on a motion to dismiss, however, which will mean the plaintiffs will be entitled to discovery — and that’s where we’ll likely see the real evidence of a conspiracy.
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