Deception & Misdirection

The Left’s Censorship Industry: Institutionalized Nonprofits

The Left’s Censorship Industry
Brazen Advocacy for Censorship | Information Futures Lab
Institutionalized Nonprofits | Disinformation Conference

Institutionalized Nonprofits

The Global Disinformation Index isn’t the only private group with tax dollars that targets “disinformation.”

The Rand Corporation is one of the oldest and largest think tanks in the United States. In fiscal year 2022, it received $62.1 million from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other national security agencies, another $41.8 million from the Army, $47.4 million from the Air Force, $54.3 million from the Department of Homeland Security, $55.7 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, and $4.7 million from state government agencies.

Rand established its Countering Truth Decay initiative with three goals:

  1. “Identify and collect in one place a set of resources that can help users combat the challenge of disinformation, gain greater awareness of the media ecosystem, and become more-savvy information media consumers”;
  2. “Inform funders and developers about the set of tools currently under development, those tools in need of funding, and areas where additional development would be beneficial”; and
  3. “Provide a map of ongoing projects and developed tools that could serve as an input to efforts to build a field around the study of disinformation and its remedies.”

Like the GDI, Rand’s initiative says “credibility scoring tools attach a rating or grade to individual sources based on their accuracy, transparency, quality, and other measures of trustworthiness.”
Rand argues that “Truth Decay poses a threat to democracy, to policymaking, and to the very notion of civic discourse.” Rand has observed four trends in truth decay: (1) “increasing disagreement about facts and data,” (2) “blurring of the line between opinion and fact,” (3) “increasing relative volume of opinion compared to fact,” and (4) “declining trust in institutions that used to be looked to as authoritative sources of factual information.”

Perhaps because of its status as a legacy institution closely tied to government institutions, Rand doesn’t seem to realize, much less acknowledge, there are good reasons for the public’s declining trust in institutions that it used to rely on for factual information—whether the institutions are in the government, the media, or other sectors.

Another legacy nonprofit is Common Cause, a left-leaning government watchdog group that has also jumped on the disinformation gravy train. The group set up a “disinformation tip line.” The organization asks those who contact the tipline to describe the problem and explain: “What makes it harmful? What is false, misleading, or inaccurate? What other context is necessary?”

On this point, Common Cause deserves more credit than some of the other organizations content to assign a broad definition to disinformation. By contrast, Common Cause appears to at least demonstrate curiosity and seeking evidence to buttress the point.

Journalism Organizations

One might think any journalism organization that valued the free press and free speech would feel icky about the how the word “disinformation” has been weaponized to justify censorship.

Regrettably, that assumption is incorrect.

News Literacy Project. The News Literacy Project is supported largely by left-of-center news organizations, with financial backing from left-leaning donors. Funders include the MacArthur Foundation and the Argosy Foundation.

The project seeks to get into the classrooms, training teachers to teach students about what news is reliable.

In teaching schools to fight misinformation, the organization says this will include: “The state of today’s digital landscape, including the challenges posed by generative artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT;” “Strategies for helping students determine the credibility of evidence and sources;” and “Best practices for teaching about misinformation and conspiratorial thinking.”

Fair enough.

However, the organization has demonstrated liberal biases on policy disagreements. But its “2022 Misinformation Year in Review” was loaded with political bias. It uses phrases such as “climate misinformation” to characterize views the differ from most Democrats’ views about climate change, calling this “flat earth and climate change lies.” Further the group calls critics of the COVID-19 vaccine, “vaccine denialists.”

Poynter Institute for Media Studies. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies operates the left-leaning PolitiFact website, known for “fact-checking” even jokes by Republican politicians and routinely bending over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to far-out claims from Democratic politicians.

Poynter also established separate initiatives such as the International Fact Checking Network and MediaWise.

However, Poynter largely stepped in it in 2019, publishing an “UnNews” blacklist of news organizations that lumped mainstream fact-based center-right news outlets in with far-out fake websites. It listed 515 websites in total.

This sounds almost like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s practice of lumping some of even the most benign conservative groups in with the Ku Klux Klan as one big hodge podge of “hate groups.”

Well, as it turns out, Poynter worked with Barrett Golding, a one-time producer at the SPLC in the research and development of the list.

Golding made clear he wanted to cause financial harm to certain news organizations, writing, “Aside from journalists, researchers and news consumers, we hope that the UnNews index will be useful for advertisers that want to stop funding misinformation.”

The inclusion of the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, and other mainstream conservative outlets sparked controversy.

Poynter managing editor Barbara Allen removed the list from the website and posted an apology , with the caveat that “while we feel that many of the sites did have a track record of publishing unreliable information, our review found weaknesses in the methodology.” Allen concluded, “We regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the confusion and agitation caused by its publication.”

In a separate tweet on May 3, 2019, Poynter hedged less in its apology:

We’ve Taken This List down after Finding Inconsistencies in the Methodology. We Regret That We Failed to Ensure That the Data Was Rigorous before Publication, and Apologize for the Confusion and Agitation Caused by Its Publication.

Poynter should be credited with admitting its massive error, but making the mistake in the first place demonstrates a massive blind spot. It also severely undermines the organization’s supposed authority to act as a fact checker.

In the next installment, multiple leftist organizations gathered in the webinar in August 2022 to discuss the impact of disinformation of various issues important to the Left.

Fred Lucas

Fred Lucas is the author of Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (Bombardier Books, 2020). He is a journalist who reports for the Daily Signal,…
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