Disinfo researcher says Harvard silenced her work after Zuckerberg donation
A prominent disinformation scholar who left Harvard University in August has accused the school of muzzling her speech and stifling — then dismantling — her research team as it launched a deep dive in late 2021 into a trove of Facebook files she considers the most important documents in internet history.
The actions impacting Joan Donovan’s work coincided with a $500 million donation to Harvard by a foundation run by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. In a whistleblower disclosure made public Monday, Donovan seeks investigations into “inappropriate influence” from Harvard’s general counsel, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Education.
The CEO of Whisteblower Aid, a legal nonprofit supporting Donovan, called the alleged behavior by Harvard’s Kennedy School and its dean a “shocking betrayal” of academic integrity at the elite school.
“Whether Harvard acted at the company’s direction or took the initiative on their own to protect (Facebook’s) interests, the outcome is the same: corporate interests are undermining research and academic freedom to the detriment of the public,” CEO Libby Liu said in a press statement.
In response, the Kennedy School rejected the disclosure’s allegations of unfair treatment and donor interference. “The narrative is full of inaccuracies and baseless insinuations, particularly the suggestion that Harvard Kennedy School allowed Facebook to dictate its approach to research,” spokesman James F. Smith said in a statement.
The Whistleblower Aid statement quotes Donovan accusing Dean Douglas Elmendorf of subjecting her team to “death by a thousand cuts” after she began making robust plans in October 2021 to create a research clearinghouse for the so-called Facebook Files, which were gathered by former employee Frances Haugen to highlight public harms.
Following the disclosures, Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s name to Meta.
Meta spokesman Andy Stone said the company had no comment on the dispute between Donovan and Harvard.
Despite the company’s public stance that Haugen was blowing internal research out of proportion, Donovan and other independent researchers considered the