Garlin Gilchrist II, who was selected last week to run as a candidate for lieutenant governor alongside Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, has headed a taxpayer-funded bureau the University of Michigan created to “sound the alarm” about fake news.

Gilchrist was hired a the executive director of the Center for Social Media Responsibility in March. He is making $134,000 annually. The center’s annual budget is $400,000, which comes from the university’s general fund.

Before joining the center, Gilchrist worked in social media for former President Barack Obama’s campaign and headed a Department of Innovation and Technology for the city of Detroit. Gilchrist also worked as the National Campaign Director for MoveOn.org, the progressive advocacy group, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The Center for Social Media Responsibility bills itself as an “independent forum where platform companies can participate in articulating what they should and shouldn’t be responsible for, and be a credible source for monitoring and certifying progress.”

The center, according to its mission statement, hopes to “ameliorate negative effects of broad access to the means of public communication, while amplifying positive effects.”

“The Center is a response to these challenges around, can we believe what we see online, can we believe what we read, can we trust sources,” Gilchrist said in a video on its website. “And since so much information gets shared through social media we need to understand how those platforms work and how people use them, and how they can potentially be manipulated.”

The center, which was founded in March, consists of 12 faculty members, mostly from the university's School of Information, and four leadership staff, including Gilchrist. A university spokesperson said Gilchrist is taking a leave of absence during the campaign but did not respond to a question about why the university is getting involved in studying “fake news.”

Heather Newman, a spokesperson for the center, said that while it does not provide any sort of definition or guidelines of what constitutes "fake news," it refers people to Media Bias/Fact Check. That website describes itself as being “dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.”

The Center for Social Media Responsibility does not have a Facebook or Twitter account that Michigan Capitol Confidential could find.

Derek Draplin writes for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a project of the Mackinac Center. 

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