Harvard To Disband Online Misinformation Project After Director Ousted

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government will not continue its project on misinformation after ousting “misinformation expert” and project director Joan Donovan from the school, the student newspaper Harvard Crimson reported Thursday.

The Technology and Social Change Project, a Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy program dedicated to examining “media manipulation,” will end as a result of Donovan’s departure, the Crimson reported. Donovan, who also serves as the center’s research director, has until until 2024 to end the program and leave the school. (RELATED: Journalists Working Alongside Harvard Academics To ‘Mitigate Media Manipulation’)

The project is being disbanded for “bureaucratic” reasons, Shorenstein Center director Nancy Gibbs wrote Thursday in an email obtained by Semafor. She explained that the project cannot continue since Donovan, who has led the project since 2019 and is listed as the center’s research director, is not a full-time faculty member.

“The Kennedy School’s standing policy is that all research projects must be led by a full faculty member. While there can be limited exceptions, those can’t continue indefinitely without a faculty member as the principal project leader and academic head,” Gibbs reportedly wrote.

Harvard Kennedy School dean Douglas W. Elmendor let Donovan go because of her “prominence at the school,” the Crimson reported. In addition to her roles at the center, Donovan taught public policy as an adjunct lecturer.

Donovan is a reported skeptic of the Hunter Biden laptop story, which was suppressed by Twitter ahead of the 2020 election, having previously referred to it as a “straw man” in a 2022 Twitter post. She has also testified before multiple congressional subcommittees about misinformation, according to the Crimson.

The misinformation research projects included “The Media Manipulation Casebook,” “Race, Media & Tech” and the “True Costs of Misinformation,” according to its website. The New Venture Fund, managed by Democrat-linked Arabella Advisors, funded the latter project which studied the impact of online misinformation.

“How did American conservatives reach a point where their main political messages are either blatantly anti-democratic or outright falsehoods?” a presentation included in the project read.

In 2022, Donovan published a book which broke down how “far-right operatives wage wars against mainstream America” online, according to its description. “Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America” examines how memes are used to push conspiracy theories and led to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

“While the media and most politicians struggle to harness the organizing power of the internet, the ‘redpill right’ weaponizes memes, pushing conspiracy theories and disinformation into the mainstream to drag people down the rabbit hole,” the book’s description reads. “These meme wars stir strong emotions, deepen partisanship, and get people off their keyboards and into the streets–and the steps of the US Capitol. ”

Donovan, Elmendor, Gibbs and Harvard University did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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