I have been writing about the controversial funding of the Global Disinformation Index by the congressionally-created and federally funded National Endowment for Democracy. I recently disclosed that, after my Hill column ran, NED contacted me to say that it was stopping any further funding of the GDI. However, major questions still remain on the NED’s funding of this highly flawed scoring system that targeted conservative and libertarian sites. This is an effort to deter advertisers from supporting these sites while listing highly liberal sites like Huffington Post as some of the most reliable sources. It appears that a Microsoft company is supporting this effort. According to the Washington Examiner, Microsoft’s Xandr is running a blacklist based on the discredited GDI listing. However, it includes additional sites popular with conservatives, libertarians, and independents beyond the ten most dangerous sites flagged by GDI. After Microsoft’s use of the blacklist was revealed, the company removed the listing.
It now appears that NED is not the only federally funded group supporting GDI. The State Department also supports the Global Engagement Center, which gave GDI funds for this blacklisting effort. It also includes sites like the Drudge Report, the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, and sites associates with individual figures like Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee.
The Democratic members, writers, and pundits have increasingly embraced blacklisting of conservatives and even justices. There is also a chilling turn toward labeling critics as Russian sympathizers and “Putin lovers” after they called for investigations into government censorship efforts. In attacks that increasingly sound like Red Scare 2.0, Democrats are denouncing anyone who questions efforts to censor social media.
For years, the Democrats pushed a Russian collusion theory that collapsed. It was later disclosed that the Clinton campaign hid and then lied about funding the infamous Steele Dossier. Nevertheless, people like Carter Page were falsely accused of being Russian agents and critics of the investigation labeled as Russian apologists. Ironically, the FBI was warned that the dossier appeared to be the result of Russian disinformation and relied on a presumed Russian agent.
If anything, my warning of McCarthy-like attacks and measures seemed to be taken more as a suggestion than an admonition by some. Soon after the end of the hearing, MSNBC contributor and former Sen. Claire McCaskill appeared on MSNBC to denounce the member witnesses (Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Ron Johnson, and former Rep. Gabbard) as “Putin apologists” and Putin lovers.
She exclaimed, “I mean, look at this, I mean, all three of those politicians are Putin apologists. I mean, Tulsi Gabbard loves Putin.” (For the record, she also attacked me as not being “a real lawyer.”)
Microsoft’s involvement in the blacklisting is particularly concerning. This is a company with many conservative, libertarian, and independent customers. Yet, it is actively seeking to blacklist sites through this transparently biased scoring system. It is part of a chilling alliance of government, corporate, media, and academic interests to censor or control political speech on the Internet.
The fact that the company removed the list after public outcry does not relieve concerns over the original support for the blacklisting. The free speech community is caught in a never-ending Whac-A-Mole game. We hit a Disinformation Governance Board and a Disinformation Index pops up. These agencies, groups, and companies backpedal but seem to then find other ways to control or censor speech. This is why, despite fierce Democratic opposition, the House needs to move forward with an investigation into the full scope of government efforts to regulate or censor speech.