(NEW YORK) – PEN America today expressed alarm over a conservative legal advocacy group’s lawsuit against several academic institutions, which claims their work studying mis- and dis-information and its impact on U.S. elections is an effort to censor political speech. PEN America said the legal action is a “calculated attempt to silence academic research.”

The New York Times has reported that America First Legal has joined the House Judiciary Committee in a legal campaign to chill the speech and disinformation research of academics at the Stanford Internet Observatory, Graphika, University of Washington, and other institutions.

“This lawsuit is a calculated attempt to silence academic research and chill advocacy combating disinformation,” said Kate Ruane, director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Despite the implications of this lawsuit, understanding the impact of false and misleading information on our society is not a partisan issue. The First Amendment provides us the freedom to ask questions and to challenge the information we receive from powerful institutions without fear of government intervention. It’s also true that sometimes the line between skeptical inquiry and disinformation can be blurry, and that it’s essential to respond to disinformation in ways that don’t infringe on free speech. But the answer to ensuring we are all able to receive reliable information while maintaining free political discourse cannot be a politicized attack aimed at chilling academic researchers raising their voices about the issues their work uncovers. False information has a damaging effect regardless of who spreads it. We hope the court dismisses this suit and protects the academic freedom necessary for researchers to continue their work unfettered.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057