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A new group joins the political fight over online misinformation| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Two years ago, Nina Jankowicz briefly led a Department of Homeland Security agency created to fight disinformation, the establishment of which sparked a political and legal battle about the government's role in policing lies and other harmful online content that continues to resonate.

Now she has re-entered the fray with a new nonprofit aimed at fighting what she and others have described as a coordinated campaign by conservatives and others to undermine researchers like her who study the sources of misinformation.

Jankowicz, already a lightning rod for critics of his work on the issue, launched the organization with a letter accusing three House Republican committee chairmen of abusing their subpoena powers. silence think tanks and universities that expose the sources of misinformation.

“These tactics echo the dark days of McCarthyism, but with a terrifying 21st-century twist,” he wrote in Monday's letter to the organization's co-founder, Carlos Álvarez-Aranyos, a public relations consultant who in 2020 was involved in efforts to defend the integrity of the American voting system.

The creation of the group, called the American Sunlight Project, reflects how divisive the issue of identifying and combating disinformation has become as the 2024 presidential election approaches. It also represents a tacit admission that informal networks formed at major universities and research organizations to address the explosion of online misinformation have failed to mount a substantial defense against a campaign, waged largely by the right, that describes their work as part of an effort to silence conservatives.

The campaign, which has been waged in the courts, conservative media and the Republican-led House Select Subcommittee on Federal Government Harmonization, has was very successful in gutting efforts to monitor disinformation, especially around the integrity of the US electoral system.

Many of the country's most prominent researchers, facing lawsuits, subpoenas and physical threats, have recanted.

“More and more researchers were getting carried away with this, and their institutions weren't allowing them to respond or they were responding in a way that wasn't really up to the moment,” Jankowicz said in an interview. “And the problem with that, obviously, is that if we don't reject these campaigns, then that's going to be the prevailing narrative.”

That narrative prevails at a time when social media companies have abandoned or reduced their efforts to enforce their own policies against certain types of content.

Many experts have warned that the problem of false or misleading content will only increase with the advent of artificial intelligence.

“Disinformation will continue to be a problem as long as the strategic benefits of engaging in, promoting, and profiting from it outweigh the consequences of spreading it,” he wrote in Common Cause, the nonpartisan public interest group, in a report published last week that warned of a new wave of misinformation surrounding this year's vote.

Jankowicz said his group would run ads about the broad threats and effects of disinformation and produce investigative reports on the backgrounds and funding of groups that run disinformation campaigns, including those targeting researchers.

He has teamed up with two veteran political strategists: Mr. Alvarez-Aranyos, a former communications strategist at Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan group seeking to counter domestic authoritarian threats, and Eddie Vale, a former member of American Bridge, a liberal group dedicated to gather opposition. research on Republicans.

The organization's advisory board includes Katie Harbath, a former Facebook executive who previously was a top digital strategist for Senate Republicans; Ineke Mushovic, founder of the Movement advancement project, a think tank that tracks threats to democracy and gay, lesbian and transgender issues; and Benjamin Wittes, a national security legal expert at the Brookings Institution and editor-in-chief of legal war.

“We need to be a little more aggressive about how we think about defending the research community,” Wittes said in an interview, portraying the attacks against him as part of “a coordinated attack against those who have tried to counter disinformation and disinformation”. electoral interference.”

In the letter to congressional Republicans, Ms. Jankowicz highlighted the emergence of a fake robocall in the voice of President Biden discouraging New Hampshire voters from voting in the state's primary and artificially generated images of Mr. Trump with black supporters, as well as renewed efforts to Porcelain and Russia spread disinformation to the American public.

The American Sunshine Project was established as a nonprofit organization under a section of the Internal Revenue Code that allows it greater scope for lobbying than tax-exempt charities known as 501(c)(3). It also does not have to reveal its donors, which Jankowicz declined to do, although he said the project had initial commitments of $1 million in donations.

The budget pales in comparison to those behind the counteroffensive like America First Legal, the Trump-aligned group that, with a war chest of tens of millions of dollars, has sued investigators at Stanford and the University of Washington for their collaboration with government officials to combat misinformation about voting and Covid-19.

The Supreme Court He is expected to rule soon in a federal lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, accusing government agencies of using researchers as proxies to pressure social media platforms to remove or restrict the reach of accounts. .

The idea for the American Sunshine Project came from Jankowicz's experience in 2022, when she was named executive director of a newly created Disinformation Governance Board at the Department of Homeland Security.

From the moment the board went public, it faced fierce criticism that portrayed it as an Orwellian Ministry of Truth that would censor dissenting voices in violation of the First Amendment, although in reality it only had an advisory role and had no authority to enforce the law.

Ms. Jankowicz, a Russian disinformation expert who once worked as an adviser to Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, resigned shortly after her appointment. Even then, she faced such a torrent of personal threats online that she hired a security consultant. suspended and then, after a brief revision, it was completely abolished.

“I think we live in an information environment where it's very easy to weaponize information and make it seem sinister,” Alvarez-Aranyos said. “And I think we are looking for transparency. I mean, this is sunshine in the most literal sense.”

Jankowicz said she was aware that her participation in the new group would draw its criticism, but that she was well positioned to lead it because she had already “been through the worst.”

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