- Texas Governor Greg Abbott did not address repeated questions from the Daily Caller News Foundation about whether he thinks it is appropriate for taxpayer funding to support a Texas university project that worked to censor conservatives.
- The University of Texas at Austin houses the Global Disinformation Lab, which partnered with the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a group that works to blacklist conservative news sites from ad exchanges, for a research report released in December 2022.
- “The vast tentacles of the Censorship Industrial Complex have wound their way into universities, private-sector business, and nonprofits in nearly every nook and cranny of this country,” Michael Chamberlain, Protect the Public’s Trust director, told the DCNF.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott declined to answer repeated questions from the Daily Caller News Foundation on whether he believes it is appropriate for taxpayer funds to support a Texas university’s project that worked to censor conservatives.
The University of Texas at Austin houses the Global Disinformation Lab, established in 2020 to research a “broad spectrum of information, misinformation, and disinformation via digital media.” The lab recently partnered with the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), which works to blacklist conservative news sites from ad exchanges, according to documents obtained by the Washington Examiner, for a research report released in December 2022.
Researchers from the UT Austin lab analyzed 69 news websites between June and October, finding conservative websites — including the New York Post, Reason, RealClearPolitics, The Daily Wire, The Blaze, OANN, The American Conservative, The Federalist, Newsmax and The American Spectator — most at risk for disinformation, according to the review. Meanwhile, liberal-leaning websites like The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News and The New York Times were rated “low” risk.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to Gov. Abbott’s office on seven occasions over the course of a week, asking his opinion on taxpayer funds going to the lab’s projects, as the university receives 24% of its funding from state and county support. Communications director Renae Eze provided a statement highlighting Abbott’s freedom of speech initiatives but did not address the question. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: DHS ‘Misinformation’ Panel Dismissed Concerns Over Speech Crackdown As ‘Bad Faith’)
“The University of Texas is not currently partnering with the UK-based index and will not in the future,” Eze said. “Here in Texas, Governor Abbott has long-championed freedom of speech for Texans and Americans. In the last two legislative sessions, the Governor has fought for and signed legislation into law protecting Texans from wrongful censorship on social media platforms and protecting free speech on Texas’ college campuses. And just last month, Governor Abbott helped facilitate a pivotal agreement between Newsmax and DIRECTV to protect the right of conservative voices and viewpoints to be heard.”
The GDI maintains a “dynamic exclusion list” of the “worst offending websites” for disinformation, which ad companies can use to in turn “defund and downrank” those websites, according to GDI’s website. The research report produced by UT Austin’s lab under the supervision of GDI contains websites likely to be on GDI’s “exclusion list,” according to the Washington Examiner.
What is GDIL?
Our website: https://t.co/ld4OFdkrXZ
Our mission: connect students with meaningful research experiences that advance our understanding of the global dynamics of mis/dis info.
Follow us and we’ll learn together.
— UT GDIL (@UT_GDIL) April 4, 2022
Abbott’s team did not respond to five subsequent attempts to obtain a direct answer addressing the lab’s ongoing Spring 2023 projects, which include investigating disinformation in search results and looking at the link between disinformation and elections. The governor would not say if he had any plans to prevent state funds from going toward this lab or if it was appropriate for a public university to house an entity that actively participated in the censorship of conservatives.
“Hardly anyone familiar with the state of higher education today would be surprised at a prestigious university participating in the censorship of American citizens,” Michael Chamberlain, director of ethics watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust, told the DCNF. “But that fact does not make it any less disturbing with each revelation of exactly that happening. The vast tentacles of the Censorship Industrial Complex have wound their way into universities, private-sector business, and nonprofits in nearly every nook and cranny of this country.”
The lab describes itself as research-focused with the goal of enabling students, along with faculty, to “complete world class research on the global dimensions of disinformation and misinformation.” Its website expresses an interest in cultivating outside partnerships with organizations doing similar work.
“We are proud to have worked, and in some cases continue to work, with thee [sic] National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Sandia National Labs, the Global Disinformation Index, and the Army Cyber Institute, among others,” it says.
In partnership with the university’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, the lab is also developing a database of disinformation laws and policies across the globe, designed to be used by policy makers, researchers, journalists and civil society organizations. Over 40 student researchers are currently working on the project, according to a news release.
Pete McGinnis, communications director for government watchdog Functional Government Initiative, told the DCNF any government funding given to censor Americans is “concerning,” adding that the partnership between GDI and the UT Austin lab “opens up the question of whether federal funds are being used to fund this project.”
“The American taxpayer deserves to know whether their own tax dollars are going towards an effort to censor,” McGinnis said.
The Global Disinformation Lab did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
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