Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) has escalated his fight against Stanford University over concerns about censorship and misinformation. Jordan has accused Stanford’s Internet Observatory (SIO) program of cooperating with big tech companies and the federal government to censor what they consider “misinformation,” even when the information in question has been shown to be accurate.
Jordan, not one to shy away from a fight, has been vocal about the university’s refusal to fully comply with a subpoena sent out in April. The subpoena demanded information and documents about SIO’s involvement in flagging “disfavored speech.” He recently sent a firm letter to Stanford’s legal team warning of potential enforcement mechanisms if they fail to meet his demands by June 14.
Two projects under SIO’s umbrella, the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) and the Virality Project (VP) have drawn particular ire from conservatives. Both projects have been accused of working with the federal government and social media platforms to suppress speech, specifically regarding claims of voter fraud in the 2022 election and information about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Stanford's censorship shop is now openly defying @Jim_Jordan and @JudiciaryGOP's Congressional subpoena to turn over their 3 years of censorship communications with government officials.https://t.co/SeVijl7NsB
— Mike Benz (@MikeBenzCyber) June 5, 2023
“Individuals affiliated with SIO tracked both specific posts and entire ‘narratives’ through the Jira ticketing system and shared them, at a minimum, with large social media companies,” Jordan noted in his letter, arguing that social media platforms moderated content based on these tickets and other information provided by Stanford personnel.
The growing concern among conservatives is that free speech is being undermined under the guise of battling misinformation. When entities like Stanford, in conjunction with big tech firms, assume the role of arbiters of truth, it creates a dangerous precedent. This sentiment was underscored by Michael Shellenberger’s testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee subcommittee, where he referred to the EIP as the “seed of the censorship industrial complex.”
They aren’t debating the limits of free speech, Shellenberger argued. Still, rather, they are “creating blacklists of disfavored people and then pressuring, cajoling, and demanding that social media platforms censor, deamplify, and even ban the people on these blacklists.”
26. Perhaps the ultimate example of the absolute fusion of state, corporate, and civil society organizations is the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), whose “Election Integrity Partnership” is among the most voluminous “flaggers” in the #TwitterFiles: pic.twitter.com/wiSN9tl5Bl
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) March 9, 2023
Stanford University’s response to the subpoena thus far has been minimal. Its lawyer, John Bellinger III, confirmed the existence of documents and communications related to the Jira tickets but refused to produce them, claiming these were part of a student research project. A claim Jordan argues is inconsistent with available information.
Jordan’s tough stance against Stanford University is a timely reminder of the imperative need to preserve freedom of speech and the dangers of unchecked power in the hands of tech giants. As this controversy unfolds, one thing is clear: Rep. Jordan and his committee are not backing down in their pursuit of transparency and accountability in the digital space.