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Thursday, May 23, 2024

New Nonprofit Enters the Fray Against Online Disinformation

Nina Jankowicz, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security’s disinformation agency, has returned to the fight against misinformation with the launch of a new nonprofit organization. The American Sunlight Project aims to counter what Jankowicz and others see as a coordinated effort by conservative groups to discredit researchers studying disinformation.

The initiative comes amidst heightened concern over disinformation as the 2024 presidential election approaches. It acknowledges the failure of existing networks at universities and research organizations to effectively combat disinformation, particularly attacks labeling their work as partisan.

Jankowicz and co-founder Carlos Álvarez-Aranyos penned a letter accusing three Republican House committee chairmen of using subpoena powers to silence institutions exposing the sources of disinformation. They likened these tactics to McCarthyism, highlighting the seriousness of the issue.

The American Sunlight Project plans to run ads, produce investigative reports, and engage in advocacy efforts to counter disinformation campaigns. It has enlisted political strategists and experts, including former Facebook executive Katie Harbath and national security legal expert Benjamin Wittes, to bolster its efforts.

The organization’s establishment underscores the growing threat of disinformation, which has been exacerbated by social media companies’ lack of enforcement and the proliferation of false content. Common Cause warned of increased disinformation around the upcoming election, fueled by strategic gains and the rise of artificial intelligence.

Jankowicz emphasized the need to defend the research community against attacks aimed at silencing them. The American Sunlight Project aims to fill this gap, advocating for transparency and pushing back against efforts to undermine legitimate research.

The nonprofit, operating under a section of the tax code allowing lobbying, has initial commitments of $1 million in donations. While modest compared to the resources of its adversaries, such as America First Legal, it represents a significant effort to combat disinformation.

The organization’s formation stems from Jankowicz’s experience leading the Disinformation Governance Board at DHS in 2022. Despite its advisory role, the board faced intense criticism and was ultimately abolished. Jankowicz faced personal threats and harassment, highlighting the hostile environment surrounding efforts to combat disinformation.

The American Sunlight Project aims to bring greater transparency to the fight against disinformation, countering attacks on researchers and defending their vital work. It represents a proactive response to the growing threat of misinformation, signaling a renewed commitment to safeguarding the integrity of information in the digital age.

Jankowicz acknowledges the challenges ahead but is determined to confront her critics and lead the organization in its mission. The project’s focus on openness and accountability reflects a commitment to combatting disinformation through sunlight and transparency.

David Faber
David Faber
I am a Business Journalist of The National Era
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