WASHINGTON—The Washington Post reported earlier today on Rep. Jim Jordan and the House Judiciary Committee’s extensive efforts to investigate internet researchers at universities around the country. In recent days, the committee questioned professors from the University of Washington and Clemson University, and last week, Rep. Jordan sent a letter to Stanford University threatening to take legal action unless the university complies with a subpoena for records related to research about the 2020 election and COVID 19 vaccine misinformation. The letter set a June 14th deadline for the university to respond.
The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
It’s remarkable and very troubling that a congressional panel that purports to be investigating censorship is engaged in the intimidation of researchers. There’s nothing at all nefarious about researchers studying online speech and sharing their conclusions with social media platforms—and this activity is indisputably protected by the First Amendment. The panel should withdraw its sweeping demands, which undermine the very freedoms it says it is trying to protect.
The following can be attributed to Alex Abdo, litigation director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
Independent research relating to online speech is immensely important right now because new communications platforms have transformed the digital public sphere in ways the public urgently needs to understand. Given the stakes, it’s vital that public and legislative debate be informed by actual facts and a genuine understanding of how these platforms are shaping society. Rather than intimidate and punish the researchers engaged in this work, Congress should establish new legal protections to ensure that researchers can do their important work without interference.
In March, the investigative news outlet ProPublica reported that the committee sent letters to Stanford University, the University of Washington, Clemson University, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, seeking information about how “certain third parties, including organizations like yours, may have played a role in this censorship regime by advising on so-called ‘misinformation.’” The letters requested “documents and information dating back to January 2015 between any ‘employee, contractor, or agent of your organization’ and the federal government or social media organizations pertaining to the moderation of social media content.” The Washington Post reported today that the National Conference on Citizenship and New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics and its Tandon School of Engineering also received requests for documents.
For more information, contact: Adriana Lamirande, [email protected].