At least two private companies received large grants from the military to develop online surveillance tools, The Federalist has reported
The US Department of Defense funds private internet monitoring firms NewsGuard and PeakMetrics, which trawl the web for "misinformation" to censor and demonetize websites, conservative news outlet The Federalist reported on Friday.
NewsGuard is a private company that rates news outlets by their "reliability" and reputation for sharing "falsehoods and misinformation narratives." Before a Congressional hearing last week, journalist Matt Taibbi labeled the company a part of the "censorship-industrial complex," publishing an image of a $750,000 grant award from the Pentagon to the firm. During the hearing, reporter Michael Shellenberger explained that NewsGuard uses its ratings system to drive advertiser revenue away from conservative sites or other "disfavored publications."
In an email to Taibbi, Newsguard's CEO Gordon Crovitz denied receiving government funding, stating instead that the government pays for access to its data. The Pentagon, he wrote, is specifically looking for evidence of "Russian and Chinese disinformation."
However, NewsGuard received a $25,000 award from the Pentagon in 2020, after winning the military's 'Countering Covid-19 Disinformation' challenge, The Federalist reported on Friday. A year later, Newsguard was given $750,000 to develop an AI-powered database of "misinformation networks" alongside the Department of Defense.
NewsGuard is one of several such businesses funded by the Pentagon. PeakMetrics was another winner of the Covid-19 challenge, earning a $25,000 grant to develop "social listening" technology for the military. It received a further $1.5 million from the federal government in 2021, but even before that the company had been singled out as potentially useful to the Pentagon.
In early 2020, PeakMetrics took part in the 'Air Force Accelerator' program, under which it developed "measuring tools to detect misinformation campaigns." According to The Federalist, it put these tools to use during the 2020 and 2022 elections in the US. At that point, PeakMetrics solely worked for the US State Department and Pentagon, before later offering its services to the private sector.
It is unclear what the Pentagon aimed to achieve during these election monitoring campaigns. PeakMetrics did not respond to a request for comment by The Federalist.
Aside from paying private companies to develop web surveillance tools, the Pentagon, along with a number of other government agencies and departments, has directly engaged in social media censorship in recent years. Internal communications from Twitter published by Taibbi, Shellenberger, and other journalists, showed that the social media giant "directly assisted" the US military's online influence campaigns and censored "anti-Ukraine narratives" on behalf of multiple intelligence agencies. The platform also received extensive lists of accounts to ban from the US State Department and associated NGOs.