Why Renee DiResta Leads The Censorship Industry

Since the 2016 elections, politicians, journalists, and many others have raised the alarm about “foreign election influence” and “disinformation,” demanding greater “content moderation” by social media platforms. It is too easy, they argued, for foreign and malign actors to quickly “go viral” at low cost, leaving the good guys unable to correct bad information. We must become more “resilient” to disinformation.

It’s now clear that all of that rhetoric was cover for a sweeping censorship effort by the federal government and government contractors.

Since December, a small but growing group of journalistsanalysts, and researchers have documented the rise of a “Censorship Industrial Complex”, a network of U.S. government agencies, and government-funded think tanks. Over the last six years, these entities have coordinated their efforts to both spread disinformation and to censor journalists, politicians, and ordinary Americans. They have done so directly and indirectly, including by playing good cop/bad cop with Twitter and Facebook. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people have been involved in these censorship and disinformation campaigns in the U.S., Canada, and the UK.

We now know, thanks to the Twitter Files, emails released by the Attorney Generals of Missouri and Louisiana, and research by others, that the Censorship Industrial Complex is violating the First Amendment by coordinating with government agencies and receiving government funding to pressure and help social media companies to both censor information, including accurate information, while spreading disinformation, including conspiracy theories.

And such efforts are continuing if not accelerating. At Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” last week, US allies in Europe demanded that Facebook censor “false narratives” and news that would “weaken our support to Ukraine.” Facebook agreed.

One of the most intelligent, influential, and fascinating public-facing leaders of the Censorship Industrial Complex is Renee DiResta, Research Manager of the Stanford Internet Observatory. Diresta has, more than anyone else, made the public case for greater government-led and government-funded censorship, writing for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Wired, and other major publications, and through public speaking, including on podcasts with Joe Rogan and Sam Harris.

To many journalists and policymakers, DiResta is one of the good guys, advocating as a citizen and hobbyist for greater U.S. government action to fight disinformation. DiResta has argued that the U.S. has been unprepared to fight the “information war” with Russia and other nations in her bylined articles for the New York Times, Washington Post, Wired, and many others. And in her 2018 Senate testimony DiResta advocated “legislation that defines and criminalizes foreign propaganda” and for allowing law enforcement to “prosecute foreign propaganda.”

DiResta, as much as any other public person in the Western world, has sounded the alarm, repeatedly and loudly, for stronger governmental and non-governmental coordination to get social media platforms to censor more information. “The Russian disinformation operations that affected the 2016 United States presidential election are by no means over,” wrote DiResta in the New York Times in December 2018. “Russian interference through social media is a chronic, widespread, and identifiable condition that we must now aggressively manage.”

In 2021, DiResta advocated for creating a government censorship center, which she euphemistically referred to as a “Center of Excellence,” within the federal government. “Creation of a ‘Center of Excellence’ within the federal government,” she said, “could tie in a federal lead with platforms, academics, and nonprofits to stay ahead of these emerging narratives and trends.” DiResta argued that her censorship center could also help spread propaganda. “As narratives emerge,” she explained, “the Center of Excellence could deploy experts to relevant federal agencies to help prepare pre-bunking and messaging, to identify trusted voices in communities, and to build coalitions to respond.”

Did the Department of Homeland Security act on DiResta’s proposal to create a censorship center? It did. But DHS didn’t call it a “Center of Excellence.” Instead, it called it a “Disinformation Governance Board,” which the agency announced publicly in April 2022.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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