Ex-Harvard disinformation scholar says pressure from Facebook forced him to quit his job in college

Cody O’Laughlin/The New York Times/Redux

Joan Donovan, disinformation researcher at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 16, 2021.


A nationally recognized online disinformation researcher has accused Harvard University of shutting down a project that led to her protecting her relationship with mega-donor and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Dr. The allegations made by Joan Donovan raise questions about the influence the tech giant can have on ostensibly independent research. Facebook’s parent company Meta has long sought to defend itself against research that harms society: from the proliferation of election disinformation to the creation of addictive habits in children.

Beginning in 2018, Dr. Donovan will hold Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy worked at the Shorenstein Center at the School of Government and ran its Technology and Social Change Research Program, where he led studies of media manipulation campaigns. But Donovan says Harvard informed Dr. Donovan last year that it was ending the program.

A disclosure In a letter sent to Harvard leaders and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona last week and made public Monday, Donovan accused the university of beginning to restrict its research after the Zuckerberg Initiative donated $500 million to the university’s new Center for Artificial Intelligence. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropy run by Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, both of whom attended Harvard.

Details of the disclosure were first reported The Washington Post. CNN has reached out to Harvard and Meta for comment. In comments provided to the Post, Harvard denied Donovan’s main allegations.

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“This is a shocking betrayal of Harvard’s academic integrity and public interest,” said Libby Liu, CEO of Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit legal group that previously worked with Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen.

“We’ve seen in the past how Big Tobacco, Big Energy, and Big Pharma have succeeded in influencing, undermining, and colluding with research to avoid their lies, profits, and accountability. Now Meta, with the complicity of a powerful ally, is following the same playbook. Although acting under the guidance of the Harvard Institute “Or whether they take the initiative themselves to protect Meta’s interests, the result is the same: corporate interests undermine research and academic freedom to the detriment of the public,” Liu said.

This is a growing story. It will be updated.

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