In an alternate universe...

"In an alternate universe, I run a sprawling cabal. Its goal, according to the contrarian newsletters, crank blogs, and breathless podcasts where the fantasy plays out—is to silence right-wing populists on behalf of the deep state.

Each morning, Google Alerts arrive in my inbox detailing the adventures of a fictional character bearing my name. Last month she starred in an article about “A Global Censorship Prison Built by the Women of the CIA.” In a Substack article headlined “Media Ruled by Robust PsyOp Alliance,” later posted on Infowars, an anti-vaccine propagandist implicated my alter ego in a plot to bring about a “One World Government.” A blog post titled “When Military Rule Supplants Democracy” quoted commentators who lumped her in with the “color revolution blob”—a reference to popular revolts against Russian-backed governments—and the perpetrators of “dirty tricks” overseas. You get the idea. Somewhat flatteringly, the commentators who make up these stories portray me as highly competent; one post on X credited the imaginary me with “brainwashing all of the local elections officials” to facilitate the theft of the 2020 election from Donald Trump."

I have a new essay out in The Atlantic (gift link!) that describes what it was like to be turned into "CIA Renee," brilliant mastermind of some sort of intergalactic cabal bent on controlling online speech (or something). I wrote this in hopes that the reader might experience some of the disorientation that happens when you become a character in a cinematic universe, and the absurdity of online lies becoming pretext for Congressional investigations. I also wrote it to try to convey why social media is so impactful in shaping public opinion - and even reality - in our current era. That is also the focus of my book, which is now officially out!

This essay also serves as my comment about my departure from Stanford Internet Observatory - a matter that has been in the news recently. I am really, really proud of all of the work we did over the last five years: using novel technical techniques to find illegal content in AI training data, resulting in immediate action impacting the entire industry; conducting extensive research into the intersection of Generative AI and child safety, which was entered into the congressional record and referenced by both parties; publishing the most thorough exploration of the child safety reporting ecosystem and recommendations on how it can be upgraded to deal with the coming wave of generated CSAM; investigating influence operations by state actors including Russia, China, Iran, and dozens more; investigating an influence operation by the U.S. Pentagon, leading to an internal re-evaluation of its policies on information operations; exposing rings of spammers and scammers; and creating the building blocks for Trust and Safety as a cross-disciplinary academic field. While our work on election rumors attracted the attention of weaponized congressional committees, our research agenda was far, far broader.

My sincere hope is that the university continues to support these projects, even as they have declined to continue the election research partnership. They've said they will, so I look forward to continue reading all of the reports and issues of the journal, and will be attending the Trust and Safety Conference in the fall.

Most of all, I want to thank everyone for all of the notes of support. Sharing the book is what's most important to me right now, and I appreciate everyone helping me do that – including, if you've read it, by leaving a review! :)