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Too late, Ms Starbird. Trust, once lost, is not so easily regained.

I hear the faint chink of the penny dropping at Guardian. This profile of misinformation specialist – read that job description as you will – Kate Starbird is predictably fawning, but they seem distinctly anxious to get across the idea that she and other misinformation specialists are no longer going to behave in the way they did in the last few years: ‘Stakes are really high’: misinformation researcher changes tack for 2024 US election

A key researcher in the fight against election misinformation – who herself became the subject of an intensive misinformation campaign – has said her field gets accused of “bias” precisely because it’s now mainly rightwingers who spread the worst lies.

Kate Starbird, co-founder of the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, added that she feared that the entirely false story of rigged elections has now “sunk in” for many Americans on the right. “The idea that they’re already going to the polls with the belief that they’re being cheated means they’ll misinterpret everything they see through that lens,” she said.

Starbird’s group partnered with Stanford Internet Observatory on the Election Integrity Partnership ahead of the 2020 elections – a campaign during which a flood of misinformation swirled around the internet, with daily claims of unproven voter fraud.

Starbird and her team helped document that flood, and in return congressional Republicans and conservative attorneys attacked her research, alleging it amounted to censorship and violated the first amendment.

Starbird, a misinformation researcher, herself became the subject of an ongoing misinformation campaign – but said she would not let that deter her from her research. Her team wasn’t the only target of the conservative campaign against misinformation research, she noted: researchers across the country have received subpoenas, letters and criticism, all attempting to frame misinformation research as partisan and as censorship.

Jim Jordan, chair of the House judiciary committee, served as the ringleader of this effort in Congress, using his power to investigate groups and researchers that work to counter misinformation, particularly as it related to elections and Covid-19. One practice that especially upset Jordan and his colleagues was when researchers would flag misleading information to social media companies, who would sometimes respond by amending factchecks or taking down false posts entirely.

That is censorship. One can argue that it is justified censorship, but it is censorship.

Nor is it just Congress attacking anti-misinformation work. A federal lawsuit from the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana alleges that the Biden administration violated the first amendment by colluding with social media companies to censor and suppress speech.

The Guardian’s writer, Rachel Leingang, has phrased that last sentence so that it could easily be read as saying the whole of the phrase “the Biden administration violated the first amendment by colluding with social media companies to censor and suppress speech” has the status of a mere allegation, a question yet to be decided. I hope Ms Leingang will forgive me if I clear up that potential ambiguity. The U.S. courts may or may not rule that the Biden Administration violated the First Amendment by colluding with social media companies to censor and suppress speech, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the censorship happened.

A new lawsuit from the state of Texas and two rightwing media companies takes aim at the Global Engagement Center, a state department agency that focuses on how foreign powers spread information.

The pressure campaign has chilled misinformation research just ahead of the pivotal 2024 presidential election, as some academics switch what they focus on and others figure out ways to better explain their work to a mixed audience. One thing they will probably no longer do is flag posts to social media companies, as the practice remains an issue in several ongoing court cases.

Hear that? They’ve changed now. Censorship was so 2020. They aren’t going to do that any more. Probably.

23 comments to Too late, Ms Starbird. Trust, once lost, is not so easily regained.

  • JJM

    I would not trust anyone who described themselves as a misinformation researcher.

    And don’t get me started about those who tout the term disinformation.

  • bobby b

    “The pressure campaign has chilled misinformation research . . . “

    “Misinformation research.” I cannot decide if they’re being intentionally ironic, or if they really never did read Orwell. If they end up with an actual Ministry of Truth . . . well, I guess I’ll still be wondering. These people tend to impenetrability.

  • Kirk

    Small world. I used to work for Kate Starbird’s father, when she was back in high school. Watched her athletic career with pleasure, and then once I observed this latest effort of hers, which I became aware of about three years ago with a bit of horror. I thought better of the family, TBH… I don’t recall her father being particularly political, other than being extremely down on the activities of the Clinton Administration. He was a good officer, and as far as I knew, a decent and overall good man. He was amazingly proud of his daughter’s athletic career.

    His daughter, however, seems to have become a piece of work. I think I met her in passing a couple of times, which would make sense from a standpoint of unit/family functions, but I couldn’t say she made much impression.

    Her current “scholarship” strikes me as extremely dystopian, and an effort to enable all the worst features of 1984, Animal Farm, and Brave New World.

    I’m not sure where she’s going to end up, but if she’s had anything at all to do with the suppression of free speech that she’s advocated for, she belongs under the prison, not just in it. American veterans like her father and the men he led did not do what they did so some dimwit academic could tell their kids what and how to think.

  • Deep Lurker

    “And don’t get me started about those who tout the term disinformation.”

    Disinformation is a perfectly cromulent term for a form of lying used extensively by the Soviets during the Cold War. That the Left now accuses the Right of deploying disinformation is just another example of the Left projecting like World War II searchlights.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Lurker: Your mention of WWII spotlights makes me think of a museum visit my wife and I made on 30 May last year, to the Combat Air Museum outside Topeka, Kansas. Here’s a line from my Livejournal post about it: “I saw a World War II carbon arc searchlight with a power consumption of multiple kilowatts, and a working range of several miles—a really impressive piece of technology.” I’d add that this thing was really huge—I recall it as being bigger than our stove. I really love that sort of heroic technology, and it does make a great metaphor, doesn’t it?

  • Paul Marks

    Like the New York Times, the Guardian has been pushing lies (let us not bother with the word “disinformation” – if we mean lies we should say lies) since at least the 1930s – for example covering up the millions of deaths caused by the socialist government in the Soviet Union

    On the American Presidential Election of 2020 – “Covid” was used as an excuse, in some States (not all), for a tidal wave of mail-in ballots many of which were (by design – it was deliberate) not properly checked – that is the truth and it is people who defend the rigged election who are the liars. Just as those people who pretend that the election for Governor of Arizona in 2022 was not rigged are liars – and this includes the Wall Street Journal which showed that its allegiance was to the Corporations (indeed to “Wall Street” – as its name suggests, the Corporations now being dependent on the Credit Money of the system – and, thus, joined at the hip with government), not to honest elections.

    On Covid generally the truth is as follows…

    The virus was produced in the Chinese Wuhan lab that was part funded by American government agencies and by Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance and World Health Organisation – the same World Health Organisation that is seeking powers to impose censorship and other tyranny in the name of “countering pandemics” and “Climate” (oh yes – “Climate” like “racism” is a “Public Health Emergency”).

    The lockdowns did NOT “save lives” – on the contrary they have done terrible damage, and many people will die because of the damage the lockdowns have caused.

    Early Treatments for Covid, which could have saved many lives, were systematically smeared.

    The Covid “vaccines” were not very “effective” and were certainly not “safe” – indeed they have injured and killed many people.

    These are the facts, which establishment liars, such as the people of the Guardian, seek to cover up.

  • JohnK


    Yes, the “unproven voter fraud” which we have actually seen with our own lying eyes.

  • Y. Knott

    “… added that she feared that the entirely false story of rigged elections has now “sunk in” for many Americans on the right…”

    “Entirely false story of…” – who determined the story is entirely false? – why, she did. What evidence did she base her conclusion on? – “well, everybody just knows, I mean like, really! And why do I have to like, EXPLAIN this to you, are you thick or something? D’uh…” And all her friends perfectly agree with it, and it’s the people who dispute it who’re the conspiracy nuts – unquestionably right-wing, almost certainly MAGA Trump-lovers and she wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they’re all cis-wypipo, to boot. A simple and extremely popular dynamic of “Muh FEELZ beat your FACTS!” – and there’s no point arguing it with her, or all her friends either. And that is how the entitled Left works these things.

    I said a couple years ago, during the sunshine days of Empress Ardern; what price “misinformation ministries”, and what conclusions will they inevitably reach as to what constitutes “misinformation”? Well once they’re fully-staffed with purblind left-wing SJW’s, and pointedly reminded who signs their paycheques, the following corruptions become certainty:

    1) MISINFORMATION: anything that makes US look BAD, and THEM look GOOD; and,
    2) Your SINGLE SOURCE of TRUTH: anything that makes US look GOOD, and THEM look BAD.

    And so it has come to pass; although I shamefacedly confess, it’s so bleedin’ obvious that I doubt I can get-away with copyrighting it and charging user fees……

  • llamas

    @ Kirk – perhaps you might have insight as to why Ms Starbird’s biography more-or-less-completely excludes any mention of her father. Just take a look at her Wikipedia hagiography, which lists 3 generations of grandparents but lists only ‘parent’ – her mother. I see that, and I see her academic career milestones, and then I note her orientation, and I think ‘Ho – here’s someone whose axe has come pre-ground.’



  • Kirk


    That explains a lot. I hadn’t looked that deeply into the whole deal, and now that I do…

    Typical military brat syndrome; often resentful of their parent’s duty obligations taking them away, and entirely oblivious to the fact that daddy’s doing what he is for them.

    I don’t remember there being a lot of “issues” visible to his subordinates. We always saw them as a typical senior-ranking couple/family grouping, and COL Starbird was always very proud of his daughter and her athletic achievements. I remember one specific exercise where we ran him in early so he could make one of her games as a surprise. I’d have never suspected all of this as a final outcome for that family relationship, but you never know: In the military, especially for senior ranking people, you’re often witnessing perpetuation of a fraud, insofar as “family” goes. Everyone knows that if there’s drama, then you’re likely going to experience career truncation, so everything is kept rigidly in-house if there are conflicts between service member and family. You learn to keep things well away from the flagpole…

    It’s too bad, really. I rather liked COL Starbird, and found him to be a good officer to be working under. He was not a political kind of guy, but he was livid about the Clinton Administration and its sale of LORAL to the Chinese, something he’d been involved with blocking because his former assignment was the technology transfer agency that was under the Pentagon before Clinton put it under Commerce and pushed through LORAL’s sale to the Chinese communists. That’s all I remember about the man’s politics, and I’m pretty sure he was either an old-school Scoop Jackson Democrat or a mild Republican.

    In today’s military, I doubt he’d have gotten past about Major.

  • Paul Marks

    “entirely false story of rigged elections” there can be no reasoning with a person who uses sneering language like that.

    I have worked in election campaigns since 1979 in the United Kingdom and observed them in other lands – and I have been an Election Agent (the lead party official in a Constituency – the person who does the legal stuff).

    Postal votes (as we call them) had to be checked with me being there, part of the process. “But there are vast numbers of them” – then there should NOT be “vast numbers of them” – Covid or not Covid.

    If someone turned up with vast numbers of “mail-in ballots”, too many to really check, I would first assume it was a joke – but then, when I worked out they were not joking, I would have them arrested.

    As for Arizona in 2022 – not only were there vast numbers of fake mail-in ballots, there were also “problems” with the voting machines (there should NOT be voting machines – there is no reason not to have paper ballots, cast in private and counted in public) with voters being turned away – all recorded at the time, many protests.

    It was not just lying leftists who denied that the election was rigged – it was also the Corporatist “right” such as the Wall Street Journal.

    Damn these people – damn them to Hell.

    The generation of “the Battle of Athens” (Tennessee – 1940s) would not have tolerated this.

    As for 2024 – they may well do it again, more “mail-in ballots” and more “problems with voting machines”.

    The people who said “it is just about Trump – they [the Democrats and the RINOs – they work together] will not rig another election” were proved wrong in 2022, in several States.

  • Kirk

    The Trump organization just released their statements about what they found in the various states as far as vote fraud and election rigging. They’re up on X/Twitter, and if you search for them, they make for compelling and disturbing reading.

    It’s very true that there was never any “proven” fraud, but that was more because the courts denied standing on almost all of the cases brought. The issue was never really adjudicated or investigated; Bill Barr, that figure of utmost respect, lied about the “investigations” his Justice Department supposedly did.

    The whole thing was a subterfuge, a sleight-of-hand intended to keep Trump out of office.

    Here’s my question: What the hell are they afraid of? What is Trump’s presidency to them, that they would do this? Is it mere pique that he took a toy away from their beloved Hillary? Or, are they afraid that since they don’t have hooks into him, he might do something against their interests?

    Every President of recent memory has been made exponentially more wealthy than when they were private citizens, or they were already a part of the structure. Is it the lack of a hold that they’d have on him?

    That death card the Tarot reader pulled, today? I’ll lay you long odds that that is precisely how far they’re willing to go, and that Trump’s assassination would likely set some things off that the oligarchy will like far less than they would another Trump presidency. With the Epstein list coming out, and all the other BS? I don’t think they can just keep piling straw on the camel’s back before the whole thing breaks…

  • Jukka

    I have no opinion on the actual subject matter, i.e. U.S. politics. And I do admire Ms. Starbird, and the Guardian’s story was sad.

    1. Having said that, people should really return to the basics: for instance, it was well-established post-WWI that propaganda requires censorship to be effective. This aspect is crystal clear with respect to the two ongoing wars.

    2. I agree that censorship only makes things worse in most cases. Writing from Europe, I am afraid that we’ll see increasing censorship down here due to regulatory changes.

    3. Generally, I think researchers in this field should return to improving digital and media literacy skills. This task mandates returning to the basics and the classics. You cannot teach about propaganda by only looking at one side of it (such as, say, Russia’s) without exposing people to your own country’s (not U.S.) cookery too.

    4. Finally, I agree with you that trust is the key, and once it is lost, it may never be regained. This aspect is something Ms. Starbird fails to acknowledge, I think.

    And why doesn’t the Reader pull those Lover cards?

  • bobby b

    I’ll go back to what I’ve said before – the “bad act” in the voting system occurred back when they passed the new laws allowing for untraceable ballots through the mail and through bulk delivery before voting day.

    Once they made that system legal, there was never going to be any way to conclusively, legally, prove fraud. It was baked into the system at that point. You cannot look in a barrel of fungible, unlabeled, unidentified ballots and discern which are proper and which aren’t.

    And so all of the court attempts ended in standing issues, or other process-centric rulings. No court ever really addressed the merits – because the new laws didn’t allow those merits to be considered. Courts will not overturn choices in voting processes that were democratically enacted, and I cannot blame them. It becomes the vaunted “political question”, outside of the court’s bailiwick, and we of all people (libertarians) ought not complain about that.

    If the Dems still have fear, it’s that people will realize that our new system is unverifiable and game-able, and will allow for repeal back to voting on one day, by properly verified voters, with purple thumb ink following. They do not fear being uncovered for what they have done – cannot happen. They fear being denied the future flooding of bad votes. This has been working very well for them.

    But we’ll not overturn this new system without winning entire state governments – legislative and governors’ offices. It takes both to make such changes. Our efforts would be far more productive simply fighting for future state elections rather than complaining about what has already happened.

  • Snorri Godhi

    With all due respect to all American friends here:
    We must start by stating loud and clear that ‘free and fair American election’ is a contradiction of terms.
    An election is free and fair if, and only if, every single vote is certified by both the governing party and the opposition.
    (And that holds if, and only if, the opposition is not a sham opposition.)

    That is not to say that we should doubt that Trump won the 2016 election honestly: if he didn’t, “they” would not have needed to conjure the Russian hoax.

    Similarly, i think that we can trust the results of landslide elections, such as Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

    But that does not mean that 1984 and 2016 were free & fair elections: they were not. See above.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Snorri – for an election to be free and fair all votes must be counted in the presence of representatives of the candidates, I have stood in front of counters for more hours (over the last 44 years of my life in politics) than I care to remember.

    With electronic voting machines the above is impossible – as the votes are counted electronically. So such machines, even if not deliberately rigged, must not be part of an election.

    As for millions of “mail-in ballots” where it is just impossible to do such things as proper signature checks by representatives of the candidates – well anyone who defends MASS mail-in ballots (as opposed to a few postal votes from people who can not get to the polls – postal votes that must be individually checked by officials and representatives of the candidates) is an obvious scumbag.

    And your point about “sham opposition” is also valid – for example in the State of Arizona some “Republicans” are no such thing, they are “registered as” Republicans, so the corrupt government can say “we have Republicans in the process of the election” even though these “Republicans” were NOT selected by the Republican candidate for Governor in 2022, indeed had actively campaigned AGAINST her.

    Unless the candidate is allowed to select their own representatives, and these representatives see the votes – the process is a farce. Something the Corporate State “right”, such as the Wall Street Journal, does not seem to understand, or (rather) does not WANT to understand.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    As an election official in Singapore, having gone through a few rounds already, I can say with certainty that whatever processes used in the US would NEVER pass muster here.

    The key words drummed in us during our (online) training was that the ballot must be SECRET and SECURE, with an unbroken chain of custody at all times, eyes on the ballot boxes. The parties can send their people to observe at every step of the way, from the beginning to the counting itself.

    At the start of voting, we would show the gathered voters the empty boxes, then proceed to cover them with the lids and affix special stickers to prevent any tampering. At the end, more stickers are used to seal up the filled boxes and ensure the integrity of the process.

    Mail-in votes fail the chain of custody requirement and hence are not considered by most countries.

    If voting is important, then you turn up in person, come what may. Heck, one of the guys in my team recalled that there was once a patient who came in on am ambulance, wheeled out on his hospital bed pushed around by nursing staff so he could vote, then was wheeled back out to the hospital for his surgery!

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I have a cousin residing in Nevada in the US, and she came back to Sg with her partner in 2022. I talked to them about the US elections, and they seemed willfully ignorant or simply refused to believe the system could be gamed.

    I had to press them before they admitted there was no way to tell if the signatures on the mail-in votes are authentic – the voter to which the mail-in vote was addressed had to raise the issue before they would even check.

    Then they said it’s a minor problem, and fraud won’t possibly happen. It took me a lot of effort not to roll my eyes – my kids were around and I didn’t want to make a scene.

    I’m glad my cousin isn’t in Sg, we have no need of such stupid or duplicitous people.

  • Ferox

    In Washington State, we moved several years ago to a 100% mail in ballot system. I think it’s technically possible to file a ballot in person but i doubt many people do.

    In addition to the fraud, and the exploitation (how many seniors in nursing homes, barely aware of their surroundings, do you think voted for Brandon on the last election) mail in ballots have the fundamental problem of being commoditized. You can sell them and the buyer can have confidence that get they are getting what they paid for. i have yet to hear anyone actually offer an argument for why this wouldn’t be true.

  • Kirk


    The lack of resistance and pushback against vote-by-mail by the so-called “Republican” party in this state is a key marker for my belief that they are at best, compromised and at worst, active participants in the looting of this state by the Democrats. Couple that with what the current AG and Secretary of State are doing? Positively despotic.

    Olympia badly needs a cleaning-out, and if they keep pushing the way they are? They may get one.

    It is in no way accidental that all these electoral “victories” they’ve achieved came after all these “reforms” meant to make voting “easier”. Nor is it coincidental that the “vote-by-mail” thing gets put in as soon as they take over a state like Colorado, either…

  • Ferox

    @Kirk: I agree completely.

    My preferred election method?

    1) Ballots are maintained in a chain-of-custody, from the moment they are printed until the moment they are counted or destroyed. There should be paperwork tracking where every single ballot was at every moment and it should be verifiable. No ballots which have been outside the chain of custody should be allowed, and deliberately removing ballots from the chain of custody without authorization should be a crime with serious consequences.
    2) Only in-person voting, with paper ballots. The only exception to be people who are away on official business during the election. On vacation? Too bad, if voting is that important to you don’t schedule a vacation during an election. The tiny number of people who are seriously ill during an election will not have statistically significant consequences for the outcome and will tend to balance out anyway.
    3) The ballots should be kept in a large plexiglass box in the center of the polling station. It should not be permitted to leave the room during the entire election, and no ballots not contained in the box should be allowed to be counted.
    4) The counts should be performed by two consecutive groups of counters. If they agree, no problem. If they don’t, or if the ballot has some issue, it should be resolved by a team of three on site for that purpose. All ballots resolved in this way should be fully scanned and posted online for the entire electorate to review.
    5) Every polling place and counting place should be audited through the use of some small number of secret dummy ballots. The poll workers and vote counters should have no way of telling a dummy ballot from a real one.
    6) Ballots should be retained in a secure facility until one day before the next election, in case there needs to be a review. Then they should be destroyed.

    But of course, that system would largely prevent election fraud. Which means that there is zero chance we could ever have it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Wobbly Guy:

    Then they said it’s a minor problem, and fraud won’t possibly happen. It took me a lot of effort not to roll my eyes – my kids were around and I didn’t want to make a scene.

    You could have told them that Europeans would laugh at them, if they knew how American elections are run.

    And of course, not just Europeans: Singaporeans, Japanese, South Koreans, Taiwanese, Australians, and Kiwis too.
    I suppose.

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