In March of 2021 a nonprofit group called the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released a report about online misinformation. Founded in the U.K. by a former Labour Party political figure named Imran Ahmed, the CCDH was virtually unknown at the time in the U.S., but that was about to change. The report quickly reached the hands of executives at Twitter. “COVID-19 misinfo enforcement team is planning on taking action on a handful of accounts surfaced by the CCDH report,” a Twitter official wrote on March 31. One account they eventually took action against belonged to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who was then running against Joe Biden for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
A few months later, the same report was being cited by the Biden administration. At a press briefing in July 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki quoted from the CCDH report in a briefing where she accused Facebook of undermining federal vaccine policies. “There’s about 12 people who are producing 65% of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” Psaki claimed, citing the CCDH’s work, while warning social media companies to shut down these “misinformation” accounts. “They’re killing people,” President Biden told a reporter a short time later, leveling the charge of murder against Facebook for its alleged role in providing a platform for “vaccine misinformation.”
Facebook’s Vice President Monika Bickert later criticized CCDH’s claims for being free of evidence—failing to define the term “anti-vaxx,” for example—and neglecting to explain how they came up with their numbers and conclusions. But it had little effect. By then the report had popularized the idea of a “disinformation dozen,” a narrative that hardened as it was promoted by countless news outlets, fact checkers, and social media accounts devoted to round-the-clock attacks on “disinformation.”
More recently, the CCDH has popped up again, leading the battle against Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, who has been cast as a champion of racists and antisemites. “The CCDH has been at the forefront of reporting on the hate proliferating on X/Twitter since Musk completed his takeover in late October 2022,” Ahmed wrotelast month in The Observer. In a number of publications over the past year, the group has repeatedly blamed Musk for allowing his platform to spread hate speech. Once again, these efforts have been uncritically amplified in the press and in a letter to Muskfrom House Democrats that reiterates Ahmed’s claims, and cites him and CCDH.
What, then, do we know about the CCDH? In effect, it seems, the organization provides the White House with a powerful weapon to use against critics including RFK Jr. and Musk, while also pressuring platforms like Facebook and Twitter to enforce the administration’s policies. While few journalists have bothered to investigate the opaque group, the available evidence paints a picture that is likely different from what many in the public would expect of a “public interest” nonprofit.
The scale of the CCDH’s success must be emphasized for those unfamiliar with the crowded mob of D.C.-based nonprofits churning out reports that seldom get a passing glance from the nation’s policymakers. For a tiny, unknown, nonprofit to gain so much attention in D.C.’s crowded, competitive policy space is akin to a pudgy, amateur athlete catching the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, while setting a new world record in the marathon, all in one week.
Donation from the Schwab Charitable Fund to the CCDH: Source https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/311640316/202230499349301028/full
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