Harassment, public-records requests bombard UW truth seeker after Jan. 6 hearings cameo

by Brier Dudley at seattletimes.com

After making a cameo appearance in the Jan. 6 hearings, a University of Washington professor was pounced upon, virtually, by national media and a Missouri Senate candidate.

The situation offers a different perspective on the local journalism crisis and the underlying challenge of ensuring that Americans continue receiving trustworthy, factual information.

Kate Starbird, who co-founded the UW Center for an Informed Public that researches misinformation online, said she received harassing messages after the Election Integrity Partnership she’s part of made a written statement to the Jan. 6 committee.

Starbird and the CIP also received a batch of public-records requests, starting with two on Sept. 14 from the conservative Daily Caller news site. It requested all communications between CIP, social media companies and the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Because CIP’s now 40-person group of researchers and students does academic work on and sometimes with the companies, and has current and former students and family members and friends working or interning at the companies, the request involves of “thousands of different relationships,” Starbird said.

“The requests are so vast that it’s just going to move very slowly unless the requesters are more targeted in what they’re looking for,” she said.

That was followed two weeks later by an expansive request from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who sided with former President Donald Trump in his failed and court-rejected efforts to overturn the will of the people in the 2020 presidential election.

A Republican running for U.S. Senate, Schmitt continues stoking doubts about the U.S. election system, with his campaign site talking about “glaring illegal actions involving our sacred elections” in 2020, for instance.

Schmitt went on a similar fishing expedition at the University of Missouri in June, seeking three years of email between journalism professors and the director of nonprofit fact-checker PolitiFact. A press association lawyer told The Associated Press Schmitt is using public records law as a “battering ram.”

In Seattle, Schmitt requested records and communications since Jan. 1, 2019, between Starbird and dozens of federal officials, industry experts and cybersecurity organizations.

Starbird said she doesn’t know some of the officials he listed.

“It’s doesn’t make a lot of sense to me and it feels uncomfortable, about what kind of narratives they’re trying to push that motivated these requests or might come out of these requests,” she said.

Similar requests were filed by The Intercept, independent outlet Tech Inquiry and the nonprofit Government Accountability Project.