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Republican Leaders Attack Academics

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WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 30: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), left, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), right, speak to reporters in the Senate basement at the U.S. Capitol as the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump continues on January 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. On Thursday, Senators continue asking questions for the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Having been targeted by Republicans, the only advice I can give these poor academics dealing with this trash is to throw it back in the bully’s face. Because really, what else are you going to do once you’ve been targeted? Cower?

Republican House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and his allies in Congress are demanding documents from and meetings with leading academics who study disinformation, increasing pressure on a group they accuse of colluding with government officials to suppress conservative speech.

Jordan’s colleagues and staffers met Tuesday on Capitol Hill with a frequent target of right-wing activists, University of Washington professor Kate Starbird, two weeks after they interviewed Clemson University professors who also track online propaganda, according to people familiar with the events.

Last week, Jordan (Ohio) threatened legal action against Stanford University, home to the Stanford Internet Observatory, for not complying fully with his records requests. The university turned over its scholars’ communications with government officials and big social media platforms but is holding back records of some disinformation complaints. Stanford told The Washington Post that it omitted internal records, some filed by students. The university is negotiating for limited interviews.

The push caps years of pressure from conservative activists who have harangued such academics online and in person and filed open-records requests to obtain the correspondence of those working at public universities. The researchers who have been targeted study the online spread of disinformation, including falsehoods that have been accelerated by former president and candidate Donald Trump and other Republican politicians. Jordan has argued that content removals urged by some in the government have suppressed legitimate theories on vaccine risks and the covid-19 origins as well as news stories wrongly suspected of being part of foreign disinformation campaigns.

Last month, the founder of the conspiracy-theory-prone outlet the Gateway Pundit and others sued Starbird and Stanford academics Alex Stamos and Renée DiResta, alleging that they are part of a “government-private censorship consortium” that tramples on free speech.

Although those pushing the inquiries have yet to score a major legal win or pass legislation, the campaign has kept alive the narrative that government officials violate the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantee by working with a variety of professors, Twitter and Facebook.

It really sucks to be in this situation. But this becomes your moment. Do you stand up against fascism or do you cower? They’ve targeted you and they’ve set the ground rules. Again, my personal view is that the only way to respond is with extreme hostility and politicizing it yourself. No one is going to care if you rest your case on academic freedom grounds or the supposed dispassion of the academic. Completely irrelevant and a horrible way to fight back. You have to actually fight. And I know this from very personal experience.

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