One of the world’s foremost authorities on misinformation, Joan Donovan, claims she was ousted from Harvard University in a clash with Meta, the parent company of Facebook. The incident unfolded when Harvard received a donation of $500 million from Mark Zuckerberg’s charity, just as Donovan voiced her criticism of Meta. She alleges that her funding was abruptly cut off, her ability to hire assistants was curtailed, and she became the target of a smear campaign initiated by Harvard staff.
In a legal filing, Dr Joan Donovan contends that her right to free speech was violated, setting the stage for a fierce battle between truth and power.
The controversy revolves around Donovan’s publication of the Facebook papers, a leak of 22,000 pages of internal Facebook documents by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Donovan began sharing these documents on Harvard’s website, making them accessible to all. However, this decision marked a turning point in her relationship with the university. From that day forward, Donovan claims that she was treated differently, ultimately leading to the loss of her job.
In an October 2021 meeting of the dean’s council at the Harvard Kennedy School, where Donovan worked, Elliot Schrage, the former head of communications at Facebook, allegedly argued against Facebook becoming the “arbiter of truth,” according to sources. Shortly after, Donovan received an email from the dean, Douglas Elmendorf, questioning her approach to studying misinformation in a world lacking independent arbiters of truth and constitutional protections of speech.
Donovan’s complaint includes a reproduction of the email, highlighting Zuckerberg’s frequent use of the term “arbiter of truth.” These exchanges shed light on the tensions between Meta and Donovan’s research on misinformation. Last year, she was informed that her primary project would be phased out, and this year, her position at the school was eliminated. In response to these allegations, the Harvard Kennedy School denies any connection between Donovan’s departure and Meta.
Reportedly, they claim that finding a faculty sponsor to oversee her work proved challenging, as per university policy. Furthermore, they assert that Donovan was not fired, but rather offered the opportunity to continue as a part-time adjunct lecturer, a proposition she declined. Donovan had garnered recognition through her congressional testimonies and public speeches, where she exposed how the proliferation of misinformation financially benefits tech companies.
With the support of Whistleblower Aid, an organization based in Washington, she compiled her legal filing, drawing parallels to the case of Frances Haugen, who accused Meta of knowing that its platforms disseminated harmful misinformation. A key aspect of Donovan’s claim is the alleged influence exerted by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, both Harvard alumni and significant donors to the university. The couple has donated hundreds of millions of dollars, including a promised $500 million to Harvard’s Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence. Donovan’s filing contends that such substantial monetary influence can be a potent tool for coercion.
Why was Joan Donovan fired from Harvard?
Joan Donovan claims she was fired from Harvard University after criticizing Meta, the parent company of Facebook. She alleges that her funding was cut off, she was unable to hire assistants, and she became the target of a smear campaign by Harvard employees.
What led to the conflict between Joan Donovan and Meta?
The conflict between Joan Donovan and Meta arose when she published the Facebook papers, a leak of 22,000 pages of internal Facebook documents by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Donovan believed these documents were of significant public interest and began sharing them on Harvard’s website.
Is there any evidence of Meta’s influence over Harvard?
Joan Donovan’s legal filing suggests that Meta’s substantial donations, including a promised $500 million to Harvard’s Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence, exert significant financial influence. However, Harvard denies any connection between Donovan’s departure and Meta.
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