A Dem-Linked Dark Money Network Is Quietly Funding The ‘Misinformation’ Research Industry

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  • Arabella Advisors, a consultant firm with ties to the Democratic Party, manages funds that are supporting academic and independent research into online “misinformation,” predominantly targeting conservatives’ online presence.
  • Researchers funded by the Arabella network recommended strategies such as censorship as ways to mitigate the spread of “misinformation” and “disinformation.” 
  • “Groups like the Arabella network weaponize charitable laws and tax exemption to aid Democratic electoral victories, bypassing the IRS prohibition on electioneering,” Hayden Ludwig, senior investigative researcher at Capital Research Center (CRC), a conservative watchdog group researching liberal financial influence, told the DCNF.

Several funds managed by Arabella Advisors, a Democrat-linked consultant firm, are quietly bankrolling research by universities and non-profits into how online “misinformation” and “disinformation” spreads, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation review of the networks’ grants.

Arabella Advisors, run by former Bill Clinton official Eric Kesslermanages certain administrative, legal and philanthropic functions of several non-profits including the Sixteen Thirty FundHopewell FundNorth Fund and New Venture Fund, which donate to a variety of left-leaning groups, causes and Democratic candidates, according to tax filings and statements on the funds’ and Arabella’s websites. Several funds within the network are also sponsoring research into the effects of, and how best to mitigate, misinformation and disinformation, according to a DCNF review of public grants.

Many of the Arabella-funded research projects cite conservatives predominantly as purveyors of misinformation, with several projects recommending solutions to mitigate the spread of misinformation, including censorship.

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The New Venture Fund sponsored a project in March called “The True Costs of Misinformation” at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, led by the center’s research director Joan Donovan, that sought to study the impacts of online misinformation, particularly on “vulnerable communities,” according to the project’s description. The project included a workshop featuring several panels on different topics related to the alleged impacts of misinformation.

A presentation titled “What Is Driving Conservativism’s Post-Democratic Turn in America?” by Steven Feldstein at the Carnegie Council ostensibly examined the impact of misinformation on the perceived “anti-democratic” attitudes espoused by conservatives in the U.S., according to the workshop agenda.

“How did American conservatives reach a point where their main political messages are either blatantly anti-democratic or outright falsehoods?” the presentation’s description read, alleging that “political partisanship” in the U.S. was “largely stoked by conservative propaganda and disinformation.” 

One panel entirely focused on strategies for “misinformation mitigation,” with presentations from researchers at the University of Washington and Google, among other places, according to the workshop agenda. The strategies included legislative action to alter election laws to curb election misinformation, and “psychological inoculation” against dis- and misinformation.

Another presentation sought to figure out ways to demonetize sites promoting “divisive disinformation on COVID” at “the industry or policy level,” according to the workshop agenda.

The Shorenstein Center did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

In addition, The New Venture Fund provided a grant for a 2021 research project, performed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin and the University College London, that explored methods for mitigating misinformation by facilitating “social groups” to “[exchange] judgments regarding the probability that news is true,” according to the project’s acknowledgements. The project cited the “spread of misinformation” as “one of the leading threats to democracy, public health, and the global economy.”

Arabella Advisors and the New Venture Fund did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

The Hopewell Fund, another Arabella-managed philanthropic organization, sponsored a research project, the results of which were published in The Atlantic, that examined how misinformation spreads on Facebook, focusing on “superusers.” The paper cited examples of spreaders of misinformation, including “Calvin,” who uses “’gay’ as a slur and declares that black neighborhoods are always ‘SHITHOLES,’” and “Michelle,” a woman who criticizes the “plandemic.”

The article’s authors appeared to suggest censorship as the most effective means of curbing misinformation.

“Allowing a small set of people who behave horribly to dominate the platform is Facebook’s choice, not an inevitability,” the article read. “If each of Facebook’s 15,000 U.S. moderators aggressively reviewed several dozen of the most active users and permanently removed those guilty of repeated violations, abuse on Facebook would drop drastically within days.”

The Hopewell Fund told the DCNF that the project was part of a “program focused on supporting researchers studying misinformation and accountability on the social web.”

While the Sixteen Thirty Fund explicitly donates to Democratic political action committees (PACs) and candidates, according to an OpenSecrets review of its campaign spending, the Arabella network’s other funds bankroll left-leaning and Democrat-affiliated groups that engage in electoral activism and issue-based advocacy, according to The New York Times

“Groups like the Arabella network weaponize charitable laws and tax exemption to aid Democratic electoral victories, bypassing the IRS prohibition on electioneering,” Hayden Ludwig, senior investigative researcher at Capital Research Center (CRC), a conservative watchdog group researching liberal financial influence, told the DCNF.

The Hopewell Fund sponsored both the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, the NYT reported, which spent almost $150 million together preceding the 2020 election in “get-out-the-vote” efforts targeting demographics that lean Democratic; the fund also bankrolled a Democrat-aligned legal group, Democracy Docket Legal Fund, led by Democratic Party election lawyer Marc Elias.

The New Venture Fund also set up the Trusted Elections Fund, according to a memo obtained by CRC, which courted donors to pour money into election security efforts ahead of the 2020 election. The fund distributed grants that were partly intended to “prepare journalists and civil society organizations with tools to respond to mis/disinformation and cybersecurity issues.”

“Nonprofits pour hundreds of millions of dollars into voter registration and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaigns which microtarget likely Democratic voters,” Ludwig said. “The Arabella nonprofits are a massive funnel to shift those millions from foundations and mega-donors to these professional activists.”

In addition to financial support for academic research, the Arabella network supports several non-profit organizations that conduct research into misinformation and disinformation.

For instance, the New Venture Fund is the architect of the Media Democracy Fund, a grantmaking non-profit that supports a variety of left-wing groups active in the spheres of media and communications, according to the Media Democracy Fund’s website. The Media Democracy fund has several wealthy partners, such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

The Media Democracy Fund partially sponsored the Disinfo Defense League, which describes itself as “a distributed national network of organizers, researchers and disinformation experts disrupting online racialized disinformation infrastructure and campaigns that deliberately target Black, Latinx, Asian American/Pacific Islander and other communities of color,” according to the group’s website. Members of the league include numerous left-wing and progressive activist organizations, such as Free Press, the Women’ March and Ultraviolet.

Ahead of the 2020 election, the group held numerous webinars, trainings and other educational events with misinformation researchers, in partnership with Joan Donovan of the Shorenstein Center, to train activists to combat perceived misinformation, Protocol reported.

The New Venture Fund has also sponsored a fellowship at the Algorithmic Integrity Institute, which was described as “a pilot program to train ethnic media reporters to identify, surface, and analyze instances” of misinformation and other unsavory content, according to the fellowship’s description.

In addition, the fund donated roughly $25 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, according to tax filings, an organization which also received hundreds of millions in “zuckbucks” from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to administer elections during 2020. The organization trained election workers to spot perceived election misinformation and cited former President Donald Trump as a chief purveyor of election falsehoods, according to a July 2020 manual.

The North Fund, another Arabella affiliate, is behind a group called Accountable Tech that, among pro-antitrust activism and support for privacy regulations for tech companies, researches and advocates against online misinformation; Accountable Tech is a registered trade name of the North Fund, according to the North Fund’s business filings. The group organized a pressure campaign targeting advertisers to boycott Twitter amid Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform, citing the threat of misinformation, among other concerns. The North Fund declined to comment to The Washington Free Beacon, who also reported on this link, but said that it “follows all disclosure requirements related to the disclosure of individual donors and grantees.”

The North Fund did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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