FBI, NSF, & Other Agencies Paid Colleges to Police Constitutionally Protected Speech Online
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is asking the U.S. Department of State (State Department), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and National Science Foundation (NSF) to turn over information regarding their role in helping facilitate the censorship of Americans’ constitutionally protected speech online.
In February, Sen. Cruz opened an investigation into Big Tech’s content moderation and censorship practices. The ongoing investigation has exposed the extent to which suppression of free speech on social media has been driven by government agencies and non-governmental third parties that receive funding from taxpayers.
In letters to the State Department, FBI, CISA, and NSF, Sen. Cruz wrote:
“In addition to directly flagging content to social media companies, government agencies funneled money to private-sector third parties, including nonprofits and academic institutions, that then pressured social media companies to remove content and accounts. By laundering taxpayer dollars through third parties, government agencies tried to absolve themselves of liability for infringement of Americans’ First Amendment rights.”
As Sen. Cruz points out, the State Department, in an effort to “counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts,” sent social media companies lists of individuals that they identified as “inauthentic” — lists that included not just foreign actors, but everyday Americans.
Meanwhile, the NSF doled out millions to fund Stanford University and the University of Washington’s “Election Integrity Partnership,” which successfully influenced social media companies into “moderating” millions of tweets flagged by CISA and the FBI. In an interview, the program’s lead researcher admitted that taxpayer money was intentionally channeled through a third party so that the government could evade First Amendment liability.
The FBI also partnered with universities to discuss research methodologies that would flag online “misinformation,” which often captured conservative views.
“Just because the government hires a hitman to kill speech does not absolve the government of guilt,” Sen. Cruz wrote. “Regrettably, the examples described above appear to be just a handful of numerous instances of third parties being awarded taxpayer dollars and other government support to suppress speech. It has also become apparent that our nation’s higher education institutions were often used as conduits through which the government could police speech online.”
Joining Sen. Cruz in sending the letter to the FBI is Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FBI.
The letters ask the respective agencies to provide detailed information regarding their applicable taxpayer-funded grant making and non-governmental partnerships processes. The deadline for the agencies to respond is December 19, 2023.
- In October, Sen. Cruz asked the NSF to turn over information regarding its taxpayer-funded censorship, including doling out tens of millions of dollars in grants to universities building online censorship tools.
- Since opening the investigation, Commerce Committee Republican staff have identified over 100 NSF grants between 2021 and 2023 – totaling over $66 million in taxpayer funding – to so-called “misinformation” research, directly funding organizations that work with online platforms to censor Americans. A few examples include:
- $5 million to the University of Wisconsin to create a “digital dashboard” so public officials can identify “trending misinformation” and “strategically correct” misinformation on social media;
- $5 million to George Washington University to create a therapy toolkit and digital reporting assistant for journalists who believe they are the targets of “misinformation-driven harassment campaigns”;
- $120,008 to Georgia Tech to create a program that writes posts for social media users to counter “misinformation” identified by liberal fact-checking organizations;
- $38,515 to the University of Houston to create a website and dashboard to tell Americans that they shouldn’t question “evidence-based medical guidance or refus[al] of safe treatments” on social media;
- $16,014 to the University of Oklahoma to create software for public officials, like the CDC, to notify social media companies of misinformation – despite the recent lawsuit indicating the CDC violated the First Amendment by censoring Americans on social media platforms; and
- $441,200 and $396,000, respectively, to the University of Utah and New York University to create a fact-checker training program with software to allow fact-checkers to post with increased visibility, especially on Americans who were exposed to “misinformation.”