‘Misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ join many other labels flying around this election season to qualify the news and opinions we read on social media.

Questions arise: What do these labels actually mean, and can we trust them? Can we trust the organization doing the labeling to truly be fact-driven and unbiased? Even more concerning—and likely unconstitutional—is the federal government using third-party rating websites to undermine the credibility of journalists, commentators, and news sites they disagree with in an attempt to control the information Americans receive?

A new investigation launched by the House Oversight Committee under Chairman James Comer recently aims to rip the covers off so-called misinformation and disinformation tracking websites, particularly NewsGuard.

Chairman Comer cited concerns about NewsGuard’s violations of protected First Amendment speech and censorship campaigns under the direction of federal agencies:

Our inquiry seeks documents on NewsGuard’s business relationships with government entities, its adherence to its own policies intended to guard against appearances of bias, how it tries to avoid and manage potential conflicts of interest arising from its investors and other influences, and actions that may have the impact of delegitimizing factually accurate information. 

The Committee seeks to make an independent determination about whether NewsGuard’s intervention on protected speech has been in any way sponsored by a federal, state, local, or foreign government.”

The damage caused by news tracking and rating websites is not just reputational but also financial.

We are excited that senior policy analyst Carrie Sheffield will testify on June 26, 2024, during a House Committee on Small Business hearing titled “Under the Microscope: Examining the Censorship-Industrial Complex and its Impact on American Small Businesses.”

Sheffield will provide testimony as the founder of BOLD, a media company, on how small media enterprises can be starved of revenue because of rating websites. BOLD Media, which regularly featured IWF scholars, brought together voices from across the political spectrum to discuss news, politics, business, and lifestyle topics.

Newsguard and other sites, such as The Global Disinformation Index, a global rating site that claims to provide “independent, neutral and transparent data and intelligence to advise policymakers and business leaders about how to combat disinformation,” have been found to promote leftist causes while damaging conservative and right-leaning websites. 

An ad industry whistleblower leaked to the Washington Examiner that websites flagged by GDI to a Microsoft-owned ad company, Xandr, as “false/misleading” included the Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Newsmax, Breitbart, the Blaze, the Washington Times, and Judicial Watch. Thankfully, Microsoft suspended its subscription to the GDI ratings following the Examiner’s reporting.

The fight is not over, especially when our tax dollars are being used to prop up blatant attack dogs against independent, conservative journalism. 

Trusted legal scholar Jonathan Turley wrote earlier this year in The Hill:

Funded in part by $330 million from the U.S. State Department through the National Endowment for Democracy (which contributes to GDI’s budget), the GDI was designed to steer advertisers and subscribers away from “risky” sites which it says pose “reputational and brand risk” and to help companies avoid “financially supporting disinformation online.” 

GDI warned advertisers that these sites could damage their reputations and brands: the New York Post, Reason, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Wire, The Blaze, One America News Network, The Federalist, Newsmax, the American Spectator, and the American Conservative.

The Biden Administration has both given these news-rating websites legitimacy and funding to carry out an unconstitutional campaign against conservative and opposing speech. The censorship Biden could not do in the light, he’s doing in the dark.

I spelled out the difference between misinformation and disinformation several years ago. 

Misinformation and disinformation are often used interchangeably, but there is a world of difference between the two. Both words mean false information that is spread, but the distinction is the intent.

Regular people innocently spread rumors and inaccurate information without knowing that the information is incorrect or false. That’s called misinformation. 

Either way, it’s not for the government to harshly police speech, especially for biased ends. We should also be wary of private outfits set up to do what the government cannot do directly, like NewsGuard and GDI. Otherwise, we will all end up silenced.