Information Futures Lab
Some of those same financial backers have given to the Information Futures Lab (IFL) based at Brown University, launched in June 2022.
The IFL’s predecessor was First Draft, launched in 2015 in partnership with the Google News Initiative and Bellingcat, with financial backing from Open Society Foundations.
First Draft sought to combat allegations of election irregularities in the 2020 presidential election. When it shut down in 2022, it announced that Information Futures Lab would pick up its functions.
Ahead of the 2020 election, First Draft set up CrossCheck to bring together journalists and influencers to counter supposed disinformation and offer training about such “threats.”
The Twitter Files, published in December 2022 revealed that First Draft representatives participated in a September 2020 “rehearsal” about a hypothetical scenario of leaked documents regarding Hunter Biden and then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. This was before the hypothetical happened. The goal of the participants was to control the impact of the leak and shape the narrative on social media and in news coverage. The plan worked.
In October, the New York Post published information from Hunter’s now-infamous laptop. News organizations and social media companies strangely seemed to be working in tandem to suppress the story. The Twitter Files showed us why.
Information Futures Lab calls for news outlets and social media platforms to fight “misinformation.” It also conducts research, makes recommendations, and develops guidelines for policing what it says are false narratives.
In the IFL report “About the Equity First Vaccination Initiative,” funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the organization blames structural racism for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
IFL’s two founders are Claire Wardlee and Stephanie Friedhoff. Wardlee headed up the First Draft until it shut down and handed over its functions to IFL. He previously worked for Harvard University’s Shornstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Journalist Matt Taibbi reported in May 2023 that Wardle was looped into email conversations with defense and intelligence officials about the development of the Hunter Biden story.
Friedhoff is a professor at the Brown University School of Public Health and was an advisor on COVID-19 policy to the Biden administration.
From Britain with Censorship
Two British-based organizations have attempted to censor U.S. media. One has even received U.S. taxpayer dollars to support its efforts.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate has targeted two U.S. news and commentary outlets: The Federalist and ZeroHedge. The organization sought to have Google ban the sites from their advertising platform, which would effectively demonetize the websites.
Some of the center’s personnel are tied to the British Labour Party. The Center for Countering Digital Hate’s founder is Imran Ahmed, a former advisor to Labour Members of Parliament Hilary Benn and Angela Eagle.
Ahmed and Eagle co-authored the book The New Serfdom: The Triumph of Conservative Ideas and How to Defeat Them to attack the legacy of free market economist Friedrich Hayek, a conservative icon famous for his book The Road to Serfdom.
Kristy McNeill, a former advisor to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Labour Party) is a board member of the center. Also, Morgan Sweeney’s resigned from the board of the Center for Countering Digital Hate to be chief of staff for Labour Party Leader Keir Starmar.
The center has gone after folks in Britain that could legitimately be called crackpot conspiracy theorists. The group succeeded in getting David Icke—who has claimed that shape-shifting reptiles control the world—removed from YouTube and Facebook.
More troubling are its efforts to go after U.S.-based media outlets, based largely on the comments section.
In June 2020, the Center for Countering Digital Hate successfully pushed Google’s advertising platform to ban the financial blog Zero Hedge. The center claimed the comments section from readers contained racist comments about Black Lives Matter.
Ahmed framed this as protecting advertisers:
We found that lots of those companies are inadvertently funding through their advertising content that is outright racist in defense of white supremacism and contains conspiracy theories about George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement,.
Also in 2020, the center similarly managed to get Google to issue a warning—although not an outright ban—against The Federalist, a conservative news and commentary website. The reason was also that the comment section contained offensive comments about the George Floyd protests.
It should be stated that a private nonprofit has the right to complain to an advertising platform about content. A company involved in advertising has the freedom of association under the First Amendment to decide who they do business with.
So, this is not to suggest the moves are legally actionable. However, selectively targeting media outlets for demonetization through Google undermines a basic culture of free speech and creates a chilling effect.
Another British-based organization is the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) has received U.S. State Department funding and issues ratings that generally target fact-based conservative-leaning media outlets as high risk. The group’s stated goal is to drive away advertising dollars, declaring it is “Defunding Disinformation.”
Two agencies aligned with the State Department, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Global Engagement Center, gave a combined $330,000 to the Global Disinformation Index.
The State Department says the money it gave to GDI was not used to rank U.S. media outlets, but rather for “information integrity” in Africa and Asia. Still, money is usually fungible. Federal agencies should consider the overall activities of organizations receiving U.S. taxpayers’ money.
The organization rates about 2,000 websites for their risk of “disinformation.” Microsoft-owned Xandr is among the companies that pay GDI for access to lists. They in-turn blacklist “high risk” entries, according to an investigation by the Washington Examiner.
“To reduce disinformation, we need to remove the financial incentive to create it. Brands unwittingly provide an estimated quarter of a billion dollars annually to disinformation websites through online advertisements placed on them. GDI uses both human and artificial intelligence to assess disinformation risk across the open web,” the GDI website says. “We then provide these risk ratings to brands and advertising technology partners, providing them with a trusted and neutral source of data with which to direct their advertising spend.”
The GDI advisory panel includes employees from Soros’s Open Society Foundation, Facebook, and the Pew Research Center.
In October 2022, the GDI report “Measuring Disinformation Risk on TV News Programming,” concluded that Fox News was the most prone of the top three cable networks to disinformation, followed by MSNBC, while CNN was the lowest risk.
GDI and a sister organization the Global Disinformation Lab at the University of Texas teamed to produce the “Disinformation Risk Assessment: The Online News Market in the United States.” This looked at 69 American news websites. It identified the 10 “riskiest” websites, which were all either conservative or libertarian: Reason; the New York Post (which broke the Hunter Biden laptop story); the Daily Wire; RealClearPolitics; the Federalist, One America News Network, Newsmax, the American Conservative, and the Spectator.
Unsurprisingly, the report’s choice of the top 10 “lowest-risk” news outlets were reliably left-leaning outlets: National Public Radio; the far-left Huffington Post; Pro Publica, a nonprofit investigative news organization with mostly center-left donors; Insider; Associated Press; USA Today; the New York Times; the Washington Post, and BuzzFeed. Most of these “lowest risk” outlets spent years pushing the discredited Russia collusion story regarding President Donald Trump.
In the next installment, nonprofits played key roles in suppressing “disinformation.”