Combating “Skepticism”: Federal Grant Funds New Effort to Combat “Misinformation”

We have been discussing a comprehensive effort by the Biden Administration to blacklist or censor citizens accused of “disinformation” or “misinformation.” This effort includes dozens of FBI agents and other agency employees who worked with social media companies to bar or suspend accounts.  It also included grants to academic and third party organizations to create blacklists or pressure advertisers to withdrew support for conservative sites. Now, another such grant through the National Science Foundation has been identified, which gave millions to professors to develop a misinformation fact-checking tool called “Course Correct.” The tool will help fight “skepticism” and reinforce “trust” in what the government and the programmers define as true or reliable viewpoints.

The National Science Foundation reportedly awarded grants in 2021 and 2022 for more than $5.7 million for the development of Course Correct to allow media and government officials to target misinformation on topics such as U.S. elections and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. In addition, a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act-funded NSF grant supported the application of Course Correct to mental health issues.

The system would use machine learning and other means to identify social media posts pertaining to electoral skepticism and vaccine hesitancy, including flagging at-risk online communities for intervention. Sound familiar?

This is very similar to the effort on the other grants through offices like the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Democrats have opposed efforts to investigate the full scope of censorship and blacklisting efforts by the federal government. However, it appears that there are a wide array of such grants targeting free speech under the guise of combating what researchers view as “disinformation” or “misinformation.” Those words are usually ill-defined and have repeatedly been found to shield bias on the part of the researchers.

In the case of the the British-based Global Disinformation Index (GDI), the results were the targeting of ten conservative and libertarian sites as the most dangerous sources of disinformation. It then sought to persuade advertisers to withdraw support for those sites, while listing their most liberal counterparts as among the most trustworthy.

The latest grant is being conducted by Michael Wagner of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sijia Yang of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Porismita Borah of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Srijan Kumar of Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, and Munmun De Choudhury of Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing.

The grant abstract echoes the earlier work in warning that social media serves “as a major source of delegitimizing information about elections and vaccines, with networks of users actively sowing doubts about election integrity and vaccine efficacy, fueling the spread of misinformation.”

Of course, many of the scientists and groups who were previously suspended for disinformation in these areas were ultimately vindicated. The mask mandate and other pandemic measures like the closing of schools are now cited as fueling emotional and developmental problems in children. The closing of schools and businesses was challenged by some critics as unnecessary. Many of those critics were also censored. It now appears that they may have been right. Many countries did not close schools and did not experience increases in Covid. However, we are now facing alarming drops in testing scores and alarming rises in medical illness among the young.

The point is only that there were countervailing indicators on mask efficacy and a basis to question the mandates. Yet, there was no real debate because of the censorship supported by many Democratic leaders in social media. To question such mandates was declared a public health threat. The head of the World Health Organization even supported censorship to combat what he called an “infodemic.”

A lawsuit was filed by Missouri and Louisiana and joined by leading experts, including Drs. Jayanta Bhattacharya (Stanford University) and Martin Kulldorff (Harvard University). Bhattacharya previously objected to the suspension of Dr. Clare Craig after she raised concerns about Pfizer trial documents. Those doctors were the co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated for a more focused Covid response that targeted the most vulnerable population rather than widespread lockdowns and mandates. Many are now questioning the efficacy and cost of the massive lockdown as well as the real value of masks or the rejection of natural immunities as an alternative to vaccination.  Yet, these experts and others were attacked for such views just a year ago. Some found themselves censored on social media for challenging claims of Dr. Fauci and others.

The media has quietly acknowledged the science questioning mask efficacy and school closures without addressing its own role in attacking those who raised these objections. Even raising the lab theory on the origin of Covid 19 (a theory now treated as plausible) was denounced as a conspiracy theory. The science and health reporter for the New York Times, Apoorva Mandavilli,  even denounced the theory as “racist.” In the meantime, California has moved to potentially strip doctors of their licenses for spreading dissenting views on Covid.

Censorship is now embraced even when the underlying information is true. In another recently disclosed disinformation project at Stanford University, experts insisted that even true stories could still be dangerous forms of disinformation if they contributed to “hesitancy” on vaccines or other issues.

As in these prior grants, it is not clear what Course Correct specifically defines “verifiably accurate information.” When pressed by the conservative site The College Fix, researchers reportedly failed to supply an answer. What constitutes “misinformation” depends on the views of the programmers. Yet, these systems are sold as somehow transcending bias and using science to protect us from our own bad ideas or biases.

Recently, we discussed the call of Bill Gates to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to protect us from harmful thoughts or idea. In an interview on a German program, “Handelsblatt Disrupt,” Gates called for unleashing AI to stop certain views from being “magnified by digital channels.” The problem is that we allow “various conspiracy theories like QAnon or whatever to be blasted out by people who wanted to believe those things.”

Gates added that AI can combat “political polarization” by checking “confirmation bias.”

Confirmation bias is a term long used to describe the tendency of people to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms their own beliefs. It is now being used to dismiss those with opposing views as ignorant slobs dragging their knuckles across the internet — people endangering us all by failing to accept the logic behind policies on COVID, climate change or a host of other political issues.

This is not the first call for AI overlords to protect us from ourselves. Last September, Gates gave the keynote address at the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy. He told his fellow billionaires that “polarization and lack of trust is a problem.”

The problem is again … well … people: “People seek simple solutions [and] the truth is kind of boring sometimes.”

Not AI, of course. That would supply the solutions. Otherwise, Gates suggested, we could all die: “Political polarization may bring it all to an end, we’re going to have a hung election and a civil war.”

Others have suggested a Brave New World where citizens will be carefully guided in what they read and see. Democratic leaders have called for enlightened algorithms to frame what citizens access on the internet. In 2021, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) objected that people were not listening to the informed views of herself and leading experts. Instead, they were reading views of skeptics by searching Amazon and finding books by “prominent spreaders of misinformation.”

Warren blamed Amazon for failing to limit searches or choices: “This pattern and practice of misbehavior suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products.” In her letter, Warren gave the company 14 days to change its algorithms to throttle and obstruct efforts to read opposing views.

The priority for the House should be to establish the full range of these grants by the Administration in the development of blacklisting or censorship tools. That should be in addition to the effort to gauge the direct work of federal employees in censorship efforts at companies like Twitter. We can debate the wisdom or risks of such work, but we should first have transparency on the full scope of censorship efforts by the federal government, including the use of academic and third-party organizations.

65 thoughts on “Combating “Skepticism”: Federal Grant Funds New Effort to Combat “Misinformation””

  1. The true nature of the mind of the censors is being revealed. What they can’t do in the light of day they will do in darkness. They became so convinced that the proper course of action was to facilitate censorship that they came right out in the open with an attempt to form a Disinformation Commission. Now they’ve continued the operation with the other spiders under the log. When the log is turned over they scurry to hide from the light to continue to do what is in their nature to do and if you complain they only draw the spider web tighter hoping that you acquiesce to your loss of freedom. Some on this blog even long for the control of the spider with the red hour glass on its back.

  2. Buy books, Save them for your kids/grand-kids. Fahrenheit 451 could be just around the corner (looking for another dystopian example).

    Actually, I just bought a couple of books (one was To Kill a Mocking Bird) for that express purpose. Catcher in the Rye is on the next list

    1. Good advice. That’s why I have copies of “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” and a DVD of “Song of the South”. They are contraband now.

  3. In a million years l never could have predicted that the country that was the greatest experiment of the Age of Enlightenment would be the country hell-bent on ending–destroying–the Age of Enlightenment.

    Sapere aude? Don’t you dare. Nullius in verba? I’m from the government so you must trust me. Consent of governed? Guess again.

  4. Misinformation?

    Why did the communist Deep Deep State dump the essentially incongruous Karine Jean-Pierre on America if they were compelled to purge the integral and beloved Aunt Jemima.

    “That dudn’t make any sense!”

    – George W. Bush

  5. Having convinced so many persons preoccupied with all that is required of them simply to live a busy, complex and difficult daily life that they have neither the time nor resourcefulness to judge the truth for themselves of what they are told, the powers that rule all of us will do it for them, while leaving all of us to witness what has been until most recently a gradual loss of self-determination put on an accelerated pace to ever more dependency.

    How will they do it? Well, by means of artificial intelligence of course. Why should anyone trouble themselves with rigorous thinking if algorithms can do it for them? Never mind that the finite sequence of instructions said to determine fact from fiction are developed by humans themselves. You can trust them because they are of and from the government. If only the fascists of another time and place had such deceptions to hide the crudeness of their propagandizing, how much easier and more certain it would have been to tame their subjects and keep them ever so docile.

  6. If this not the start of facism/socialism in America, when it does come – we know who is susceptible to the propaganda. The progressive clowns would have goose stepped with hitler, no questions asked.

  7. Stop calling censors academics. They are morons that can’t formulate intelligent arguments.

  8. This is truly Orwellian. Or is this the Vatican judging Galileo? The Ministry of Information (propaganda) must be the next cabinet post to be set up. Do any of you out there really think that that feeble minded old man in the White House has planned all this who can’t and won’t answer questions. This problem started in the Clinton administration and was cemented in the federal centers of control by the Obama administration, in the US. But this is not a wholly US phenomenon as any news that comes out Europe reinforces what is happening here. Gates is no authority on truth, information, or or moral lifestyle (talk about glass houses). His whole fortune was stolen technology. Of course Apple took the GUI from Xerox previously.
    About as many Republicans believe in QAnon as democrats believe Joe Biden is not demented. Just because they voted for him does not mean they believed he was competent.
    Also the UN has now come out with their latest Climate Forecast and they are now telling us we must destroy our world in order to save it. I think I have heard that before. These forces are using the Pandemic and Climate to institute fear so they can ram through their control of all sources of information, justice, personal freedom (lack thereof), and anything else that smacks of resistance to their rule.
    The ChatPt is just a MS developed AI that enforces communication control. It just serves as a catspaw to reinforce this malignancy in the body politic. They will say this is not a progressive view, the machine did it. Again it is just a cutout. It’s already been demonstrated that it has a rabidly progressive slant. It is programmed and who are the programmers? It certainly did not spring to life from a pile of of unconnected and inanimate computer chips.
    How do you deal with this. Burn it all down but that’s just me. Of course if you read this you might be judged a co-conspirator in today’s Justice System.
    Come on Professor, time to officially join the forces of light. Better to light one candle than curse the darkness. We need positive affirmation and action to save this nation that we love.

    1. @GEB

      Nope, don’t believe it for a second. This all has Soros’/Obama’s/Clintons’ fingerprints all over it. They are terrified of non-believers; they are particularly terrified of DeSantis. It is going to be ugly in about a year, and unavoidable, and it is wholly the American left’s fault. 1000%.

    2. Bu-bu-but, masks and shutdowns are the only thing that saved Humanity from COVID extinction! Also, we knew it was an injection that neither prevented contracting the disease nor spreading it but we’re gonna still call it a vaccine. Anyone who so much as asked a question *must* have been refusing to believe the Holy Edict from the Pope of Science (TM), His Extreme Grace, Fauchi the 1st, and should be forced to comply and then convert/repent/recant or be summarily dismissed as a menace to society.

      All menaces to society are, by definition, terrorists so the Beneficent Bureaucracy of the Federal Dominion (TM) was and is justified –nay, duty bound! — to shield the unwashed mass of simpletons from the heresy of errant thoughts. For our own good, of course. The new suit of the emperor’s has a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who is unfit for his office, or who is unusually stupid.
      “But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last. The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

      “E pur si muove” indeed.

      Show me the Article/Amendment that 1) affirms our right to be free from information of which the State disapproves, or 2) enumerates the State’s power to squelch mis- dis- or mal-information. Not only are we free to think and speak, we are equally free to form our own sources of information. To paraphrase Mr. Heston: From my cold, dead lips!

      (Kudos for knowing the PARC GUI story)

  9. “[T]he National Science Foundation has been identified, which gave millions to professors to develop a misinformation fact-checking tool called ‘Course Correct.’ The tool will help fight ‘skepticism’ and reinforce ‘trust’ in what the government and the programmers define as true or reliable viewpoints.”

    In other words: Government bureaucrats (preening as scientists) hunt down and punish those scientists who reject Lysenkoism.

    Oops. Did I mix my countries?

    1. @Sam: your post is one of the chief reasons I visit Mr. Turley. I appreciate posts that make we Google terms like “Lysenkoism.” Thank you for expanding my horizons, you have won 13,865 Interweb points!

  10. Richard Dawkins is in deep excrement with his recent criticism of the Orwellian “EBB Language Project,” a group of academics who claim to be champions of replacing “offensive” language in academic publishing. He called them and the trans activists bullies. Now he lost his Humanist of the Year award.

    He is also now in the uncomfortable situation of sharing a common view of conservative “bigots” who have, heretofore, been his enemy. The truth, true truth should always be common ground for fair minded people.

    Bill Gates and his fellow billionaires are working fervently to revive serfdom. They want us little serfs to be quiet, and they the lords will rule over us and tell us what to do and think. That is why they hate the United States of America. We as a nation do not take kindly to people telling us what to think or say.

  11. Interesting how the Biden Administration is masking their unrelenting “misinformation” campaign to destroy free speech through National Science Foundation grants to give it whiff of legitimacy ? I guess free speech needs science now to explain it to the rest of us. What a joke. Thank you, Jonathan, for an excellent article.

  12. I agree with Professor Turley that the House should identify the Federal government’s involvement in fighting “misinformation.” But that is just the first step. It needs to use its power of the purse to stop funding these operations. This includes stopping payments to any Government employees who engage in these activities and stopping the funding of any NGOs or private sector companies who engage in them. The Government should play no role, directly or indirectly, in suppressing speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Through its appropriation bills the Republican House can now do this. It should do the same with DEI.

    1. The problem is the House may control the power of the purse, but any bill stopping the funding of these programs still requires the Senate to sign off on before it goes to Biden, and then he has to sign it. Since the Dems control the Senate that isn’t going to happen, and even if they did sign on, Biden would not sign the bill, but would veto it. We just saw his first veto.

    2. “It needs to use its power of the purse to stop funding . . .”

      That, and this:

      Pick a few prominent censors. With attendant fanfare (including perp walks), prosecute them for a *criminal* civil rights violation of, among other rights, 1A.

      Here’s the Statute: “This statute makes it a crime for any person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U.S.”

      Then watch with glee as the rats flee the ship.

      Good luck, though, finding a federal prosecutor who values constitutional rights and has the courage to pursue such a case.

  13. This is much closer to State directed/implemented Propaganda, than censorship.

    While they silence what they dont like, they are pushing the State approved “narrative” to replace the information uncomfortable to the dictators goals.

    It is important to shut down science because the biggest grift ever, is in full swing. ACGCC. $trillions are up for grabs and the truth must be silenced,/drowned out by the propaganda to keep the grift alive.

  14. I think the terms “misinformation” or “disinformation” may be ill-defined. But I think most rational people (not necessarily all the people on this board) would agree.

    1 Pretty much everything promoted by QAnon is misinformation. I.e Donald Trump is not about to expose an international pedophile ring; JFK Jr is not alive and going to be Trump’s running mate in 2024.

    2. Donald Trump’s big lie about the last election is misinformation. He lost – by a lot in the popular vote, by a margin of 3 states in the electoral college; and there was no systemic fraud against him. Those handful of cases of people fraudulently voting are more Republican voters than Democratic ones.

    I do not see Turley offering a solution to this problem – and really there are a lot of Republicans who believe this misinformation with all their hearts and without any evidence whatsoever.

    1. @8:10
      That is so pathetic it bare warrants a response.

      qanon? that’s your go to???? the ONLY people that mention are know about q are leftist liars.

      Trump got more votes than any Republican EVER. But dementia Joe got more?


      1. Iowan2,

        “ Trump got more votes than any Republican EVER. But dementia Joe got more?”

        Trump got more votes than any Republican. But Biden still got more votes than Trump. Meaning the reality is most republicans don’t get that many votes to begin with. It also means a lot of republicans did not want Trump as president so some chose not to vote, some chose to vote against Trump by voting for Biden or someone else.

        1. Be careful what you say about Uncle Ho (oops; I mean Joe). You may be denied your bonus ration of meal worms.

    2. Truist, great point. Notably Turley’s seems to be against the idea of identifying misinformation or disinformation. These government programs are all about identifying information that is misleading, false, or harmful. Identifying information is not unconstitutional or illegal. Turley conflates attempts at identifying misinformation or disinformation as censorship while ignoring real censorship at the state level such as in Florida where ideas or views that conservatives or republicans find uncomfortable or distasteful are literally banned or seek to publish those who express them under the misleading proxy of protecting children. It’s still government stifling and preventing certain views or ideas from being expressed.
      Some republican states are already trying to ban drag shows under the false claim that they are sexualizing children. They are litany infringing on performer’s free speech rights because they don’t like or feel comfortable with the idea of drag shows. They never ask if the parent’s who take their children to those shows are ok with it? They just automatically decide for them. That’s big government according to conservatives and they gleefully support it.

      1. such as in Florida where ideas or views that conservatives or republicans find uncomfortable is misinformantion.

        Florida is doing EXACTLY what you are advocating?

        You have once again discovered the truth. You are arguing against your own position.
        The difference, That State is setting the curriculum and content for use in Public Schools. Something the State has done for centuries.

      2. “Notably Turley’s seems to be against the idea of identifying misinformation or disinformation.” How do you identify mis/disinformation. Labeling is not enough. present an argument (more free speech) that contains enough facts to persuade and not rely on the “because I said so” argument.

      3. No one should go into the night blindly believing “these government programs are [all] about identifying information that is misleading, false, or harmful.” That may be a legitimate reason for them to be considered, but surely not one to take so far as to deny anyone to rebut what the programs contend. The finite sequence of instructions written for a computer to determine fact from fiction are developed by humans themselves who are as prone to subjectivism as anyone else. They may be trusted because they are of and from the government, but due diligence certainly needs to be given. If only the fascists of another time and place had such means to hide the crudeness of their propagandizing, how much easier and more certain it would have been to tame their subjects and keep them ever so docile.

  15. I am curious Mr. Turley what is your solution for combatting the misinformation and disinformation that has been and is being spread on social media platforms?

      1. “ Randy, the same solution that we have used for centuries.

        More infomation.”

        In order to do that you have to be able to identify the misinformation first. Then you can offer more information or censor it when private organizations choose to, which is completely legal and constitutional. Turley doesn’t like that option, but hypocritically he exercises it when openly racist comments are posted on his blog. It’s his policy ironically.

      2. The solution (more information) we have used for centuries here in the U.S. was only made possible by a solution used for millennia (violent revolt). We may nearing the crossroads between those 2 solutions.

    1. Your misinformation is my truth. It is far more dangerous to have the government controlling what we see and hear than to simply let people decide for themselves what is true and what is false.

    2. Nearly all “misinformation” will fail once the debate begins and the logical fallacies upon which the misinformation is based are exposed. For instance, the masking efficiency debate has finally fallen apart as it should have when people were informed that if you can smell a fart then your mask isn’t going to stop the virus. The truth has finally (except in California and in some school districts) won out.

    3. How to decide misinformation or disinformation has already been decided by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”

      The government, cannot directly or indirectly, “abridge the freedom of speech” by suppressing speech through the media or by other means at the request of the government or any of its agencies or proxies. That is what “…shall make no laws… abridging the freedom of speech….” means.

      Pretty damn simple, don’t you think. If “you” don’t like speech because “you” believe it is disinformation or misinformation, then “you” are not required to listen to it. The government, and its proxies, are prohibited by the 1st Amendment from determining what is or is not disinformation or misinformation, and who can hear or read it, United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U. S. 644, 655 (1929); Matal v. Tam 582 U.S. ___ (2017).

      “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate”. United States v. Schwimmer, 279, supra.

      “A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.” Matal v. Tam 582 U.S. ___ (2017), supra.

      The Founders believed that in a free society the individual citizen should make the decision as to what is disinformation and what is misinformation, not the government, thus the 1st Amendment.

      If you disagree with that concept, you’re free to provide Supreme Court case law that says otherwise. So far to date, no one has.

  16. OK, here’s the good news. Most Americans by far put no stock at all in anything they see or read on “social media” (and increasingly little stock on anything they see or read in media media — see time series Gallup polls on subject). In fact, I have never seen a statistic but it is very possible that a very large majority of Americans use social media for nothing but seeing photos of their grandkids, a weekly 35th high school reunion, and finding out if there are any parking spots open at the public beach.

    Meanwhile, on the key issues of the day, who needs any kind of media when the facts are apparent in real life right around us
    – The so-called Covid vaccines did not either stop transmission or vaccinate you. Still, even if there is some long term truth to them affecting your DNA, why does anyone over 50 care (the group that coincidentally and undisputabley is 1000% more likely to be harmed by Covid). Parents of toddlers and pre teens have figured this out and are keeping their kids away from the so-called vaccines in large (high majority) numbers
    – The justice system is corrupt. You do not need Trump to be arrested or Biden not arrested to know that. You can see it right in your own neighborhoods with things as simple as no enforcement of speed limits in upper class neighborhoods to nightly killings in the ghettos of dozens of American cities
    – Inflation is rampant. You can only laugh when Biden runs inflation up to 9% and then pats himself on the back because it is only 6% this month, three times as bad as it has been the last 20 years. Look at anything you buy regularly; the package is cut in half and the price is doubled
    – The Slav civil war in Eastern Europe is of no strategic importance to the United State and our involvement is totally for the benefit of Raytheon and whomever makes tanks these days
    – Social Security and Medicare Part A are going to have to cut benefits by 25% in 8/3 years respectively. Trustees from both political parties have put out long reports to this effect for 25 years. The math is simple. Someone on Twitter saying it’s Kevin McCarthy’s fault is bonkers and no one pays attention

    Then there are the issues that don’t matter at all
    – masks (except maybe as a contributor to increased crime)
    – Hunter Biden
    – “Saving” Silicon Valley Bank
    – Transgendersim whatever that even means

    1. “Meanwhile, on the key issues of the day, who needs any kind of media when the facts are apparent in real life right around us?” I wish most voters were tuned in as you seem to be, but I’ve seen several “person-on-the-street interviews” in which voting age passersby were asked questions like “what is the largest city in the world? The answer from one person: “Asia?” The facts may be there, but a lot of folks are either poorly educated, waiting for “Miller time” or both. Sadly.

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