Sen. Cruz Demands Answers on Taxpayer-Funded Censorship

October 31, 2023

National Science Foundation doling out tens of millions of dollars to “counter media myths” and “censor misinformation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is asking the National Science Foundation (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 and developing “trauma support” therapy for journalists.

During a Commerce Committee hearing earlier this month, Sen. Cruz grilled NSF Director Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan on NSF distributing millions focused on “the science of countering social media myths and disinformation as well as the development of digital tools to track and censor so-called misinformation.” One of the projects – Expert Voices Together – “creat[es] a comprehensive system of care that addresses the harm journalists experience due to online harassment,” which Sen. Cruz referred to as “taxpayer funded therapy for left-wing journalists who find actual facts traumatizing.”

In written questions to Dr. Panchanathan, Sen. Cruz wrote: 

“During your testimony, you made the following statement: ‘I want to say one thing very categorically, we do not – NSF does not engage in censorship. We do not regulate any content and engage with anybody who also does so.’ You then stated: ‘We are not in the business of censorship. We are not in the business of controlling content.’ However, a cursory examination of NSF grants directly contradicts your claim that NSF does not engage with anybody who regulates content. For example, since fiscal year 2021, NSF has funded over 100 academic projects that are aimed at supposedly reducing ‘mis-, dis-, and mal-information,’ much of which is simply content that the progressive left does not agree with.”

Contrary to Dr. Panchanathan’s comments, the NSF funds numerous projects that promote censorship of information. Commerce Committee Republican staff has identified over 105 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.”

In written questions, Sen. Cruz asked Dr. Panchanathan to define censorship, explain whether each grant is consistent with the First Amendment, and provide evidence that each project would not infringe on lawful speech. Sen. Cruz also requested NSF explain how its $5 million grant to create a therapy toolkit for journalists targeted by “misinformation-driven harassment campaigns” advances the NSF’s statutory mission to “promote the progress of science.”

To read Sen. Cruz’s full set of questions to Dr. Panchanathan, click HERE.