Matt Taibbi Profile picture
Mar 17, 2023 45 tweets 19 min read Read on X
The Great Covid-19 Lie Machine
Stanford, the Virality Project, and the Censorship of “True Stories” Image
2.“The release of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Spring 2020 emails… has been used to exacerbate distrust in Dr. Fauci.”
“Increased distrust in Fauci’s expert guidance.” ImageImage
3.“Reports of vaccinated individuals contracting Covid-19 anyway”; “natural immunity”; suggesting Covid-19 “leaked from a lab”; even “worrisome jokes”: ImageImageImageImage
4.All were characterized as “potential violations” or disinformation “events” by the Virality Project, a sweeping, cross-platform effort to monitor billons of social media posts by Stanford University, federal agencies, and a slew of (often state-funded) NGOs.
5.Just before @ShellenbergerMD and I testified in the House last week, Virality Project emails were found in the #TwitterFiles describing “stories of true vaccine side effects” as actionable content. Image
6.We’ve since learned the Virality Project in 2021 worked with government to launch a pan-industry monitoring plan for Covid-related content. At least six major Internet platforms were “onboarded” to the same JIRA ticketing system, daily sending millions of items for review.
7.Though the Virality Project reviewed content on a mass scale for Twitter, Google/YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, Medium, TikTok, and Pinterest, it knowingly targeted true material and legitimate political opinion, while often being factually wrong itself. ImageImage
8.This story is important for two reasons. One, as Orwellian proof-of-concept, the Virality Project was a smash success. Government, academia, and an oligopoly of would-be corporate competitors organized quickly behind a secret, unified effort to control political messaging.
9.Two, it accelerated the evolution of digital censorship, moving it from judging truth/untruth to a new, scarier model, openly focused on political narrative at the expense of fact.
10.THE BEGINNING: On February 5, 2021, just after Joe Biden took office, Stanford wrote to Twitter to discuss the Virality Project. By the 17th, Twitter agreed to join and got its first weekly report on “anti-vax disinformation,” which contained numerous true stories. Image
11. February 22, 2021: Stanford welcomed Twitter veterans like Yoel Roth and Brian Clarke, instructing them on how to join the group JIRA system. You can watch the friendly welcome video here:…
12. March 2, 2021: "We are beginning to ramp up our notification process to platforms.” In addition to the top-7 platforms, VP soon gained "visibility" to “alternative platforms such as Gab, Parler, Telegram, and Gettr” – near-total surveillance of the social media landscape. Image
13.Through July of 2020, Twitter’s internal guidance on Covid-19 required a story be “demonstrably false” or contain an “assertion of fact” to be actioned. But the Virality Project, in partnership with the CDC, pushed different standards. ImageImage
14.VP told Twitter that “true stories that could fuel hesitancy,” including things like “celebrity deaths after vaccine” or the closure of a central NY school due to reports of post-vaccine illness, should be considered "Standard Vaccine Misinformation on Your Platform." Image
15. In one email to Twitter, VP addressed what it called the “vaccine passport narrative,” saying “concerns” over such programs “have driven a larger anti-vaccination narrative about the loss of rights and freedoms.”
This was framed as a "misinformation" event. Image
16.VP routinely framed real testimonials about side effects as misinformation, from “true stories” of blood clots from AstraZeneca vaccines to a New York Times story about vaccine recipients who contracted the blood disorder thrombocytopenia. ImageImage
17.By March of 2021, Twitter personnel were aping VP language, describing "campaigns against vaccine passports," "fear of mandatory immunizations," and "misuse of official reporting tools" as "potential violations." Image
18. This echoed a report to Twitter by the Global Engagement Center re “Russia-linked” accounts: “While this account posts legitimate and accurate COVID-19 updates... it posts content that attacks Italian politicians, the EU, and the United States.”… Image
19.That same GEC report found in the #TwitterFiles identified former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and former Italian Democratic Party Secretary Nicola Zingaretti (who’s been compared to Bernie Sanders) as “highly connective” accounts in a “Russia-linked” network. ImageImageImage
20.The Virality Project helped pioneer the gauging of “disinformation” by audience response. If the post-vaccine death of a black woman named Drene Keyes in Virginia went unnoticed inspired mostly “anti-vaccine” comments on local media, it became a “disinformation” event. Image
21.VP warned against people “just asking questions,” implying it was a tactic “commonly used by spreaders of misinformation." It also described a "Worldwide Rally for Freedom planned over Telegram" as a disinformation event. ImageImage
22."ALMOST ALWAYS REPORTABLE" It encouraged platforms to target people, not posts, using Minority Report-style “pre-crime” logic. Describing “repeat offenders” like Robert Kennedy, Jr., it spoke of a “large volume of content that is almost always reportable.” Image
23.VP was repeatedly, extravagantly wrong. In one email to Twitter on “misinformation,” it spoke of wanting to “hone in” on an “increasingly popular narrative about natural immunity.” Image
24.The VP in April 2021 mistakenly described “breakthrough” infections as “extremely rare events” that should not be inferred to mean “vaccines are ineffective.” Image
25.Later, when “the CDC changed its methodology for counting Covid-19 cases among vaccinated people,” only counting those resulting in hospitalization or death, VP complained that “anti-vaccine” accounts RFK Jr. and “WhatsHerFace” retweeted the story to suggest “hypocrisy.” Image
26.A few months later: “Breakthrough cases are happening.” Image
27.In a chilling irony, the VP ran searches for the term “surveillance state.” As an unaccountable state-partnered bureaucracy secretly searched it out, the idea that “vaccines are part of a surveillance state” won its own thoughtcrime bucket: “conspiracy.” Image
28.After about a year, on April 26, 2022, the VP issued a report calling for a “rumor-control mechanism to address nationally trending narratives,” and a “Misinformation and Disinformation Center of Excellence” to be housed within CISA, at the Department of Homeland Security. ImageImage
29. The next day, April 27, 2022, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced in a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that a “Disinformation Governance Board” had been created, to be headed by the singing censor, Nina Jankowitz.
30.Even in its final report, VP claimed it was misinformation to suggest the vaccine does not prevent transmission, or that governments are planning to introduce vaccine passports. Both things turned out to be true.
31.The Virality Project was specifically not based on “assertions of fact,” but public submission to authority, acceptance of narrative, and pronouncements by figures like Anthony Fauci. The project's central/animating concept was, "You can't handle the truth."
32. One of its four core partners, Pentagon-funded Graphika, explained in a report about “Fauxi” that because the public cannot be trusted to make judgements on its own, it must be shielded from truths that might undermine its faith in authority. Image
33. “This continual process of seeding doubt and uncertainty in authoritative voices,” Graphika wrote, in a report sent to Twitter, “leads to a society that finds it too challenging to identify what’s true or false.” Image
34.For this reason, the CDC-partnered project focused often on disinformation “events” involving Fauci, saying “release of Fauci’s emails foments distrust,” and deriding assertions he “misled the public.” Image
35.A Cleveland Clinic study showed previous infection offered the “same immunity” as the vaccine, but VP said discovery was susbservient to narrative: “Whether or not... scientific consensus is changing, ‘natural immunity’ is a key narrative… among anti-vaccine activists.” ImageImage
36."OFTEN TRUE CONTENT" The Virality Project communications mirror those produced in the recent court case Louisiana vs Biden, which showed Facebook admitting to the WHO that it, too, was censoring true content. Image
37.From the start, Stanford explained the Virality Project would essentially continue the work of its 2020 Election Integrity Partnership. “The same JIRA system from the EIP is up and running,” they wrote. Image
38. In the last #TwitterFiles thread, we posted a video of EIP Director Alex Stamos describing that project as Stanford trying to “fill the gap of things the government couldn’t do” legally. (h/t Foundation for Freedom Online).
39.We also showed video in which Stamos introduced EIP Research Director Renee DiResta as having “worked for the CIA.” DiResta in 2021-2022 would be listed as a “Stanford scholar,” “leading” the Virality Project. Image
40. By October 2020, Stamos was hinting at the direction of the future Virality Project, telling a national cybersecurity conference that the “Anti-Disinformation” mission needed a new focus.
41.“We talk way too much about foreign…it's sexy, and it's fun, and it's a little bit cold warry,” Stamos said, adding the “vast majority” of problems were now domestic. “We have like an 80-20 breakdown... I think that needs to be flipped.”
42.VP’s partners: DOD-funded Graphika, the National Science Foundation funded Center for an Informed Public (CIP), the GEC-funded DFRLab, and the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, or CSMaP. ImageImageImageImage
43.VP would later say it partnered with “several government agencies,” including the Office of the Surgeon General and the CDC. It reportedly also worked with DHS’s CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) and GEC, among others. ImageImage
44.To recap: America’s information mission went from counterterrorism abroad, to stopping “foreign interference” from reaching domestic audiences, to 80% domestic content, much of it true. The “Disinformation Governance Board” is out; but truth-policing is not.
45. Special thanks to @NAffects for hard work on this story, with @Techno_Fog, @ShellenbergerMd, @bergerbell, @SchmidtSue1, @aaronjmate, and the team. Thanks especially to @MikeBenzCyber. Searches conducted by a third party; material may be left out.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @mtaibbi

Jun 13
Not only is the @nytimes is totally wrong implying @mirandadevine’s reporting hasn’t held up, the paper ignored its own multi-level failure on that same story in 2020, which included ignoring their own reporting. It’s almost actionable — they owe a huge apology (1/6):
First of all the Times in 2020 tried to use the unprecedented censorship of the story by Facebook and Twitter to call Miranda’s story “dubious,” without saying what was dubious. (The censorship angle they of course ignore entirely.) It got worse (2/6):
Just a few paragraphs down, the Times contradicted itself, saying Twitter didn’t block the story because it was “dubious,” but because it was supposedly “hacked materials.”

The laptop contents were not even “hacked materials,” as Twitter quickly determined. But also (3/6): Image
Read 6 tweets
Jun 6
1. TWITTER FILES Extra: The Defaming of Brandon Straka and #Walkaway

Smeared as a Russian proxy after founding a movement to "#Walkaway" from the Democratic Party, Twitter documents suggest @BrandonStraka and his followers were set up Image
2. In Atlanta Monday, I testified before Georgia state Representative @MeshaMainor, in a free speech hearing centered around the censorship of members of the “#WalkAway” Facebook Group, whose 500,000-plus accounts were deleted by Facebook on January 8th, 2021.…Image
3. The #TwitterFiles contained material about federal interest in #WalkAway, including exculpatory Twitter analyses that contrasted with coverage describing #WalkAway as a “Kremlin operation.” These documents should have been published earlier. I apologize to @BrandonStraka.
Read 41 tweets
May 6
You obviously didn't read the reports (@lhfang is a right-wing ideologue?). We went out of our way to show censorship/manipulation taking place across the spectrum, mentioning everyone from the Green Party to the Yellow Vests to Truthout and Consortium News. (1/5)
If you read the reports there was very little about which "side" was suppressed more. There was some chatter within the company about it, and some current and former executives talked about it with us, but mainly we focused on the who/how of censorship (2/5)
The main revelations were about roles the FBI, DHS, GEC, ODNI, DOD, HHS etc. played in flagging content. Lee's reports were about DOD creating fake accounts abroad. Other projects put USG agencies in the middle of flagging election or Covid-related content (3/5)
Read 5 tweets
Mar 27
How the Censorship Industrial Complex Case Was Built

2. I made a deal with the owner of this platform to publish new #TwitterFiles material only on this site. However, since this account is denylisted, I don't feel obligated to add the context, since no one will see it. Full explanations for images on Racket.News
Read 20 tweets
Jan 31
The Center for Countering Digital Hate, the IRS, and 501 (c)(3) status Image
2. The Center for Countering Digital Hate, or CCDH, is one of the most powerful players in the global "anti-disinformation" space, with a reputation for successfully pressuring Internet platforms to remove disfavored speech:
3. CCDH is currently being sued by this platform, X, which has accused it of manipulating X data to make it "appear as if X is overwhelmed by harmful content":
Read 18 tweets
Jan 3

2. In late May and early June, 2019, a story hit the news: Donald Trump's State Department had been caught trolling people, including a Washington Post reporter, deemed insufficiently tough on Iran. Outrage was universal: Image
3. Similar stories at The Intercept and Guardian ripped State's Global Engagement Center for funding @IranDisinfo, which was said to have dubbed critics of of Trump's "Maximum Pressure" policy “‘mouthpieces,’ ‘apologists,’ ‘collaborators,’ and ‘lobbyists’” of Iran:
Read 16 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Don't want to be a Premium member but still want to support us?

Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal

Or Donate anonymously using crypto!


0xfe58350B80634f60Fa6Dc149a72b4DFbc17D341E copy


3ATGMxNzCUFzxpMCHL5sWSt4DVtS8UqXpi copy

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us!