The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed the Biden administration agency implementing an artificial intelligence research program to combat “misinformation” online — that would also help social media giants censor Americans’ free speech.
Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) wrote in a Tuesday letter exclusively obtained by The Post that the National Science Foundation (NSF) “has not produced the highest priority documents” about the controversial research program and failed to comply with voluntary requests for nearly a year.
The subpoena demands that NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan hand over all internal records discussing the suppression or restriction of online content — including any potential documents on The Post’s censored October 2020 reports based on emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Other moderated content may include views on the origins of COVID-19, the efficacy of vaccines and other pandemic-era concerns; foreign and domestic election interference; the “Twitter Files” and the censoring of journalists; transgender issues; abortion; climate change; guns; and “the use of financial services and systems to further political or social objectives.”
“It is necessary for Congress to gauge the extent to which NSF officials have coerced, pressured, worked with, or relied upon social media and other tech companies and third parties to censor speech,” Jordan told Panchanathan.
“Moreover, the Committee is in possession of documents that demonstrate that NSF personnel regularly interacted and communicated with organizations receiving NSF funds, including for projects that focused on combatting alleged misinformation online. NSF has yet to produce any records related to these communications or any other meetings.”
Panchanathan must appear before the committee and produce the requested documents and communications about the program at 9 a.m. Feb. 28, per the subpoena.
Jordan and like-minded lawmakers are especially concerned that AI could be used by YouTube, Reddit, Facebook and other platforms to limit the reach of critical journalism and other First Amendment activity.
It’s unknown whether any of the tools created as a part of the program have been taken up by social media companies — or executive branch agencies.
In a Tuesday staff report, the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government revealed that under the NSF program, known as “Track F,” the feds forked over $39 million in grants to identify “misinformation” and create “education and training materials” for those with “vulnerabilities to disinformation methods.”
Researchers at three elite universities — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin Madison and the University of Michigan — as well as San Francisco-based tech nonprofit Meedan, received $13 million in grants for a subprogram titled “Trust & Authenticity in Communication Systems.”
The subcommittee released emails from some of those researchers who expressed particular concern that conservatives and veterans were more likely to be duped by “misinformation” or “disinformation” on the internet.
Some of the program’s tools could help take down harmful or illegal content — such as deepfake photos or child pornography — but the GOP report also quotes one MIT researcher who expressed concern about “broad swaths of the public” not being able to “sort truth from fiction online.”
Researchers noted that people who read “the Bible or the Constitution” were not fully informed about issues — and more likely to “fact check how media outlets reported the news” because they “distrusted both journalists and academics.”
A researcher at the University of Wisconsin also wrote about being “specifically focused on … skepticism regarding the integrity of U.S. elections and hesitancy related to COVID-19 vaccines.”
At the University of Michigan, still another researcher advocated for the federal government being able to ultimately make content “moderation” decisions, rather than social media companies.
“Our misinformation service helps policy makers at platforms who want to … push responsibility for difficult judgments to someone outside the company … by externalizing the difficult responsibility of censorship,” the researcher said in a pitch letter to NSF.
A University of Washington researcher also wrote to an NSF official describing the attempts to shut down disinformation as an “inherently political” act that will lead to “censorship.”
Jordan’s committee has gathered other evidence that the federal government under both former President Donald Trump and President Biden colluded with big tech platforms to suppress Americans’ speech.
Last year, lower federal court rulings found that the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI — among other agencies — also “likely violated the First Amendment” by having “likely coerced or significantly encouraged social-media platforms to moderate content.”
The Biden administration has since appealed the ruling in the case, Missouri v. Biden, to the Supreme Court.
The Post has reached out to Panchanathan for comment.