University of Texas Students Behind Censorship Project Targeting Conservative News Outlets

University of Texas Students Behind Censorship Project Targeting Conservative News Outlets
People walk at the University of Texas campus in Austin on June 23, 2016. (Jon Herskovitz/Reuters)
Bryan Jung

Students at the University of Texas–Austin were found to be responsible for a censorship project that targeted conservative news outlets.

The Global Disinformation Index (GDI) report, which called for the blacklisting of conservative news organizations, was written by students under the direction of academics working at the university's Global Disinformation Lab (GDIL), The Federalist reported.

In the disinformation index, the group labeled several conservative media companies as the riskiest.

The academics in charge of the lab allegedly held an anti-conservative bias in readings of internal communications, along with several other accusations found in the more than 1,000 pages of documents reviewed by The Federalist.

Publicly Funded Organization Involved in News Blacklist

A Washington Examiner investigative reporter, Gabe Kaminsky, published a Feb. 9 exclusive multi-part series: “Disinformation Inc."

Kaminsky revealed that “self-styled ‘disinformation’ tracking organizations,” such as the GDI's review of the top 10 "riskiest American news organizations," were heavily biased against conservative outlets.

Conservative news outlets such as American Spectator, Newsmax, The Federalist, American Conservative, One America News, The Blaze, The Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Reason, and the New York Post generally had the lowest ratings.

Left-leaning news publications, on the other hand, such as The New York Times and CNN, were among the 10 “least risky” in their rating system.

The GDI sold its lists to marketing organizations, which led to companies pulling advertisements from "risky" outlets and thus starving those outlets of funding.

For example, Microsoft's Xandr used the GDI’s blacklist to limit advertising dollars but has since reportedly dropped its use of the blacklist after the series was published, according to the Washington Examiner.
The government-funded National Endowment for Democracy granted the GDI more than $500,000 between 2020 and 2021, and the State Department’s Global Engagement Center awarded the GDI $100,000 in taxpayer funds in 2021, Kaminsky wrote.

University of Texas Caught in Media Censorship Controversy

Meanwhile, the GDI released a report with help from researchers at UT–Austin on Dec. 16, 2022, called “Disinformation Risk Assessment: The Online News Market in the United States.”

After the report admitting the targeting conservative outlets was published, The Federalist filed a public records request at UT–Austin in February, demanding all communications related to the GDIL’s work with the GDI on the news media review.

Despite actions by the university to withhold some of the details of its methodology and research over concerns regarding “confidentiality of trade secrets” and “certain commercial or financial information,” the internal documents that were released revealed concerning details.

The files showed that the GDI paid the university to have student researchers with little training apply the organization's screening methodology to rate the various media outlets for its final report, which gave conservative news outlets low ratings.

The GDI sold the university project to the GDIL with the goal of influencing the 2022 midterms, The Federalist reported.

Student researchers were recruited by being informed that their work would be "immediately valuable” because the GDI would release it early "to make waves ahead of the midterms” and affect the 2022 election.

After the team was finished, UT–Austin retained any surplus funds that the GDI received for the work, leading critics to question how a state-funded university could profit from such a politically biased program.

Biden Administration Continues to Fund Censorship Operations

Additional documents from the GDIL further revealed that the GDI had an even larger role in censorship activities than had been previously known, according to The Federalist.

It was revealed by these internal files that the GDI and GDIL were also working with the Biden State Department and other prominent public and private organizations to censor conservatives.

A top lab manager on the project at UT–Austin wrote in an internal email communication that the GDI worked “with governments, policymakers, social media platforms, and adtech companies to defund disinformation.”

“They are instrumental in providing data to a bunch of people that I am not sure if I am allowed to talk about,” the lab manager continued, adding that the GDI had formal and informal relationships with “trust and safety teams at various big platforms," including Twitch.

In addition, an email the GDIL received from the Global Engagement Center’s “Academic and Think-Tank Liaison” showed that the State Department had developed a close relationship with a growing number of universities and publicly funded think tanks to promote the censorship of anti-progressive views, according to The Federalist.

The State Department was exposed for its dealings with the Centre for Information Resilience, whose vice president is former Department of Homeland Security disinformation czar Nina Jankowicz.

Jankowicz was pushed out of the department by the Biden administration last year after a massive backlash caused the termination of the much-criticized censorship program.

The UT–Austin GDIL, the GDI, and the State Department didn't respond by press time to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

Bryan S. Jung is a native and resident of New York City with a background in politics and the legal industry. He graduated from Binghamton University.