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She Lost Her Job as a Disinformation Scholar at Harvard — and Claims Facebook May Have Had Something to Do With It

Dr. Joan Donovan, a former Harvard disinformation scholar, is claiming in a new disclosure that the university’s cozy relationship with alumni Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, led to her termination.

Donovan is regarded as one of the world’s leading social media disinformation experts. In 2021, she testified before the House and Senate subcommittees about misinformation and social media.

In the whistleblower declaration made public on Monday, Donovan claims her studies on media manipulation campaigns were restricted following a $500 million donation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to fund an artificial intelligence center in 2021.

“From that very day forward, I was treated differently by the university to the point where I lost my job,” Donovan told The Logic.

The disclosure was sent on Donovan’s behalf to Harvard and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona by Whistleblower Aid last week

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropic organization run by Zuckerberg and Chan.

Donovan claims she was terminated in 2022 after Harvard shut down her research. She had worked at the university since 2018 running the Technology and Social Change Research Project for the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The disclosure calls for an investigation into the Kennedy School and “all appropriate corrective action.”

Harvard, meanwhile, has refused Donovan’s allegations and claims she wasn’t fired.

“Allegations of unfair treatment and donor interference are false. The narrative is full of inaccuracies and baseless insinuations, particularly the suggestion that Harvard Kennedy School allowed Facebook to dictate its approach to research,” said Harvard spokesperson James Francis Smith in a statement to CNN.

“By longstanding policy to uphold academic standards, all research projects at Harvard Kennedy School need to be led by faculty members. Joan Donovan was hired as a staff member (not a faculty member) to manage a media manipulation project. When the original faculty leader of the project left Harvard, the School tried for some time to identify another faculty member who had time and interest to lead the project. After that effort did not succeed, the project was given more than a year to wind down. Joan Donovan was not fired, and most members of the research team chose to remain at the School in new roles,” he said.

The disclosure notes that the Chan Zuckerberg donation came shortly after the 2021 “Facebook Papers” whistleblower complaint from former Facebook employee Frances Haugen.

Harvard made the papers public with the help of Donovan, who archived the documents for public research.

Since Donovan’s departure from Harvard, she announced in August she is joining Boston University’s College of Communication as an assistant professor.

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