Kate Starbird: The Superstar of Mis/Disinformation

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

Kate Starbird left Twitter ostensibly because of Elon Musk. Who is Kate Starbird, you ask? Well, she sits on the Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Misinformation and Disinformation Subcommittee for the CISA Cybersecurity Advisory Committee (CCAC). Her job is to monitor mis-, dis-, and mal-information (MDM) and make recommendations to the CCAC about how to counter the cyber (MDM) threats that "undermine" public trust. Most recently, she advised on how to counter MDM in the 2022 elections. Prior to that, she "peddled the discredited, disinformation-driven Russia collusion narrative" in 2017 on Twitter—tweets that are now deleted. DHS hired her to comb through social media to identify "repeat offenders and disinformation influencers" to help control the narrative on a variety of infrastructure-related national security threats.

Starbird is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Human-Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at Washington University. She mentors doctoral students doing research on the subject of online disinformation. The 3:08 minute YouTube video below captures Starbird "censor-target[ing] everyday people discussing the 2020 election."

Starbird's Research Group Archives show the numerous research projects in which she and her doctoral students have engaged. Multiple areas of interest are covered, including content integrity and disinformation risks across Wikipedia language editions, shared content on Tik Tok about disasters, designing rapid-response to electoral misinformation, misinformation on pandemic-related issues, rumors (the Hawaii missile false alarm), and so much more. Her projects are where the ideas are explored, solidified and later provide the backbone for what kind of content should allegedly be censored by CISA.

Starbird Research Group/https://www.hcde.washington.edu/research/archives/starbird

CISA works hand-in-hand with non-profits and private entities to carry out its mission of free speech suppression under the guise of shoring up public trust and protecting our national security. The federal government seems to be, for all intents and purposes, laundering censoring activity to keep its hands clean. The government knows that it is unconstitutional in the United States to be directly associated with this kind of tyrannical activity. Much of this information is now the subject of an important lawsuit covered in-depth by UncoverDC Editor-in-Chief Tracy Beanz.

Starbird Received Millions from Biden Administration For Her Work

For her "scientific understanding of online disinformation," Starbird allegedly received $2.25 million from the Biden administration for the Center for an Informed Public at Washington University, which she co-founded in 2019. She explains her "research will develop and evaluate 'rapid response' methods for studying and communicating about disinformation at a sophistication and pace on par with the dynamic and interdisciplinary nature of the challenge." She started a two-year term as CIP's faculty director in mid-September 2021.

Starbird's Archived Tweets

Since Starbird has flown the coop, I had to go to the Twitter Wayback Machine to find her revealing the May"> 2021 thread on the things she thinks about. The subject of the thread is the focus of much of her research. Starbird believes social media influencers take part in what she calls "Participatory Disinformation." She references "'elites,' including political leaders, political pundits, partisan media outlets, as well as social media influencers who have used disinformation and other tactics" to grow their online audiences.

Kate Starbird/https://web.archive.org/web/20220514095605/

The May thread captures her thoughts on "The Big Lie" and the motivations behind the "January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol." She uses a tweet from President Trump to illustrate her point, calling his tweets "rigged messaging" that "sets an expectation of voter fraud." That expectation, she says, "becomes a frame through which events are interpreted." Starbird certainly makes a logical case for Trump's framework and intentions. However, the problem is that Starbird and her colleagues at CISA get to decide whether Trump's opinion is correct or not. If they decide it isn't, off the platform, it all goes! Twitter is one of the several social media platforms that has partnered closely with the federal government to monitor and control the narrative. This interview with Rappler's Maria Ressa covers Starbird's thoughts on the "U.S. Capitol Seige."

Starbird seems to believe these influencers are particularly dangerous to our national security because, remember, elections are critical infrastructure. The biggest threat, she says, is that the "online 'crowds' generated false/misleading stories of voter fraud, echoing & reinforcing the frame." To her credit, she does admit that the stories may not have always been produced intentionally but were "sincerely generated, misinterpreted." Having said that, sincere or not, it is no real matter to her. It is this kind of dynamic that she and the people at CISA want to suppress or ban altogether.

Starbird goes on to discuss multiple narratives that were common after the 2020 election, #sharpiegate and #stopthesteal are two. Her biggest fear seems to be "the building sense of collective grievance" because "shared grievance is a powerful political force." "Violent language ensues" and "calls to action increase." She is most certainly referring to the January 6 protests, which she called an "attack." The tight feedback loops between 'elites' and their audiences," she says, were in part responsible for a "violent attempt (by people who, at least in part, falsely believed they were patriots defending their country from a stolen election." According to Starbird, the sharing of disinformation also produces "new elites who manage to use the system to gain reputation (and followers)." We can't have that, can we!?

The graphics build step by step throughout the thread until her final visual representation shows the full graphic of the way "participatory disinformation" from "elites'" motivated the attacks on January 6, shown below:

Starbird/Twitter May 9, 2021/https://web.archive.org/web/20220609140256/

Starbird Flies the Coop and Nests on Mastodon Social

Starbird moved over to mastodon in early November because of Musk's involvement in Twitter. Her posts there belie her disappointment in the new Twitter management as she reiterates how important facts and truth are. She says, "we have no democracy. That's what social media has done: it has come in and used 'free speech' to stifle free speech" as she "boosts" an interview with Maria Ressa talking about "how to stand up to a dictator." The hashtags in the post belie her beliefs.

Kate Starbird/Mastodon Social

She also references communications with Yoel Roth, the recently fired head of Trust and Safety at Twitter. She laments having "wish[ed] for things to blow over. (Tear)". She says she watches the "collection infrastructure to continue to degrade and begin to build our next generation of tools atop other platforms and information resources." Starbird also decries the news that "Twitter will no longer enforce policies on COVID misinformation," a relatively new development. Starbird says the devolution of Twitter is "dangerous circumstances." Her words, "You can't create a Free Speech town square without removing those who would destroy free speech by flooding the town square with noise and disinformation," in reference to an article about Twitter grappling with "Chinese spam obscuring news of protests."

Kate Starbird/Mastodon Social/Posts

Pre-midterm CISA Cybersecurity Meetings and HSAC Report

CISA has issued a strategic plan for 2023-2025, to which Starbird has almost certainly contributed her research. Election security and resilience are one of her top priorities at CISA. Most recently, Starbird advised on the National Guard work during the midterms, "showing how a handful of sites influential on the far right had aggregated reporting" on their work and "how those posts have set off reactions from social media accounts that've previously shared election-related conspiracy theories."

Starbird participated in a series of meetings prior to the midterms to prepare for the perceived onslaught of misinformation and disinformation before and during the election and how to best squelch the threat. The September 13 meeting featured a report with contributions from Starbird via her colleague Suzanne Spaulding with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, mentioning that Starbird would be absent for a period of time. The September 13 report to the CISA Director on MDM reiterates Starbird's recommendations in the June 2022 meeting. It offers further suggestions about how to "proactively address and counter MDM based on the most recent research." The full report requires a membership to review it.

Last but certainly not least, while not specifically listed as a contributor, Starbird's influence can be seen in the work featured in the Disinformation Best Practices and Safeguards Subcommittee headed by DHS' Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC). Michael Chertoff, the Former Secretary of DHS and Co-Founder of The Chertoff Group, co-chairs the subcommittee with attorney Jamie Gorlick. Gorlick was the longest serving Deputy Attorneys General of the U.S., supervising the entire Department of Justice. Chertoff also serves on the National Task Force on Election Crises.

The Subcommittee's final August 2022 HSAC Report outlines how the spread of disinformation allegedly poses threats to our national security and provides guidelines to avoid the threats. Multiple agencies apparently need this critical mis- and disinformation infrastructure, including CISA, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, FEMA, the Secret Service, Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State. According to the report, "critical missions could be undermined," and "proper standards" may not be maintained without this infrastructure.

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