Stanford denies it’s dismantling disinformation research group

Stanford University officials have denied that the school is shutting down its prominent research group studying online harms, the Stanford Internet Observatory, but acknowledged funding challenges.

“Stanford has not shut down or dismantled SIO as a result of outside pressure,” the university said in a recent statement following reports of its demise.

A June 13 Platformer article alleged Stanford “is quietly dismantling” the SIO. Founding director Alex Stamos left his position in November, the center’s research director, Renee DiResta, left “after her contract was not renewed” recently and other staff members were “told to look for jobs elsewhere,” the article wrote.

In a LinkedIn post Tuesday, DiResta wrote that “it’s unclear what the future holds, but several of us are no longer there.”

Conservative groups and lawmakers have hit the institute with costly lawsuits and congressional investigations. The bulk of the controversy is related to the Election Integrity Partnership, a research project within the observatory and in collaboration with the University of Washington and others that studied disinformation related to the 2020 election. As part of their work, researchers would identify certain social media posts as misleading and refer some to social media companies.

DiResta talked about the lawsuits related to her work at the center in a piece published in The Atlantic earlier this month.

“Meanwhile, conservative groups are suing my former colleagues and me,” DiResta said in the article. “Stanford has run up huge legal bills. SIO’s future is unclear, and its effort to monitor election-related misinformation has been shelved.”

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan has spearheaded right-wing opposition to disinformation efforts, arguing conservatives are being censored when their social media posts are tagged as misinformation and alleging that the observatory is colluding with the government.

“Free speech wins again!” Jordan posted on X (formerly Twitter), after it was reported that the center would supposedly close down.

DiResta has denied that the center, with the Election Integrity Partnership, has the power to take down posts. Social media companies, not the observatory, have the ability to remove posts on their respective platforms.

The partnership, which culminated in an almost-300 page report, continued into the 2022 election. But, according to the EIP’s website, the project “finished its work after the 2022 election and will not be working on the 2024 or future elections.”

“The EIP’s collaborative model was tailored toward a specific event—Election 2020,” the researchers wrote in the report.

Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center said in a statement Monday that the SIO would “continue its important work” under the leadership of faculty director Jeff Hancock.

“SIO will continue its critical work on child safety and other online harms, its publication of the Journal of Online Trust & Safety, the Trust & Safety Research Conference, and the Trust & Safety Teaching Consortium,” its statement read. “Additionally, SIO faculty and staff will continue their work looking into psychological and media research questions associated with misinformation around the 2024 election.”

The center, which launched in 2019 with a $5 million grant from Craig Newman Philanthropies, openly admitted facing funding challenges.

“[The center’s] founding grants will soon be exhausted. As a result, SIO continues to actively seek support for its research and teaching programs under new leadership,” Stanford said.

Related Articles

Technology |

Free press advocates urge DA not to charge Stanford reporter arrested with university protesters

Technology |

Stanford Jazz: One of a kind festival returns with amazing lineup

Technology |

Stanford protest leaves one unimpressed: Letter to the editor

Technology |

Hundreds of students walk out of Stanford commencement over war in Gaza

Technology |

Student loan relief deadline approaching for 300,000 California borrowers

The University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public will continue work on the 2024 election “along the same trajectory as our work with the Election Integrity Partnership in 2020 and 2022,” read a March post on the CIP website.

Kate Starbird, co-founder and faculty director of the CIP, wrote in a 2023 Seattle Times opinion piece that “[a]t the UW, we’re not buckling and won’t be bullied. Our team plans to continue our rapid research during the 2024 elections.”

“Though we are no longer collaborating on “rapid research” with the original partners in the Election Integrity Partnership, our real-time election research at UW continues and we are forming new collaborations to support and share this work,” Starbird wrote in a recent email to this news organization. “We continue to collaborate with researchers at SIO on work related to online rumoring and misinformation.”

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *