The Biden administration is sending hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of anti-extremism grants to a British think tank that is under congressional scrutiny for pressuring social media companies to censor conservatives.
The London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue that has called on social media companies to censor conservative commentators such as Ben Shapiro for "misgendering" transgender people will now help the State Department and Defense Department track extremism and disinformation.
The State Department gave a $249,993 grant to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in April, while the Pentagon awarded $80,000 to it last month, according to a federal spending database. The grants, which have not been previously reported, were given to the institute to convene an anti-extremism workshop for the U.S. embassy in Germany, and to study extremism in the military as part of an Air Force research project.
It’s the latest example of the Biden administration aligning with groups that have pressured social media companies to regulate views it deems to be extremist or disinformation. Republicans, who assert that anti-disinformation groups disproportionately target conservatives, last month called on the State Department to turn over all documents related to funding for several organizations, including the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, formed in 2006, may not be the best assessor of extremism given its history of labeling conservatives as hate-spewing extremists. An institute report last year called on social media companies to "actively monitor" the accounts of prominent media outlets and public figures for content that "misgenders" transgender people. The report identified conservatives such as Shapiro and Donald Trump Jr. as offenders who should be monitored.
The group flagged Shapiro, the founder of the Daily Wire, for criticizing New Zealand for selecting a biological male to compete on its women’s Olympic weightlifting team. It criticized Trump Jr. over tweets in which he referred to "males" competing on girls’ high school track teams in Connecticut. It urged social media companies to ensure that Shapiro, Trump, and others are "not able to generate support or gain traction with such content."
The institute pressured social media companies last year to clamp down on what it called abortion misinformation, a category that includes references to abortion as "killing," "murdering," or "dismembering a baby." It asserted that failure to censor such content would have "an immediate impact on the health and well-being of Americans" and "calls into question once again the ability or willingness of online platforms to respond to future issues which may be vulnerable to misinformation."
The report took aim at a YouTube video from Shapiro that compared anti-abortion activists to slavery abolitionists. The institute lamented that the video "has no informational label and users are not directed to any credible information on the topic."
In other reports, the institute has falsely accused conservatives of waging violence at anti-mask rallies and during the George Floyd protests in 2020.
In one report, the institute cited the stabbing of a man at a rally in Los Angeles in August 2021 as an example of conservative extremism during the anti-mask protests. But, according to news accounts, the victim was an opponent of mask mandates. The institute faulted "right-wing extremist groups and militias" that opposed the Black Lives Matter movement for shootings in Wisconsin and Oregon. But the latter case actually involved an Antifa supporter fatally shooting a member of the right-wing group, Patriot Prayer, at a protest in Portland.
Institute scholars have gone after Twitter owner Elon Musk for interacting with conservative users. In a report in January, the group said Musk’s activity on Twitter has "become more and more problematic" since he took over the social media site. It criticized Musk for interacting with conservative commentators like Tim Pool and Mike Cernovich. The report also criticized Musk for interacting with the account Libs of TikTok, which the institute labels a "prolific spreader of hate."
As part of its latest federal grants, the institute will help the State Department and Defense Department identify and assess extremism.
The institute will work with Queens College and the Center for Analysis of Social Media as part of its Pentagon contract to "explore the feasibility of using machine learning to semi-automate the identification of radicalization online." The State Department grant will support the institute’s program at the Transatlantic City Exchange in Berlin this month to "build community resilience against hate and polarization in Central and Eastern Europe."
The State Department, Defense Department, and Institute for Strategic Dialogue did not respond to requests for comment.