It seems that the leadership at Meta can’t help but do something so shady that it looks highly inappropriate and makes them look suspicious of a seriously heinous crime.
Joan Donovan, a renowned disinformation expert and former head of Harvard’s Technology and Social Change Project (TASC), alleges that Harvard succumbed to pressure from Meta (Facebook’s parent company), leading to her termination. And they did all of that with a mad donation of $500 million.
Donovan, known for her work on COVID-19 disinformation and extremism, filed a 248-page document with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office and the US Education Department, presenting an explosive explanation for her exit from Harvard earlier this year and the closure of TASC.
According to Donovan, the events began in October 2021 when she presented a keynote on the “Facebook Papers” to top Kennedy School donors, including former Facebook communications executive Elliot Schrage. “From that day forward, I was treated differently by the university to the point where I lost my job,” Donovan told the Logic.
Facebook Papers is a trove of whistleblower documents Donovan had obtained suggesting the company didn’t just allow disinformation to be spread on its platform but that it was acutely aware of the harm it was causing and decided not to do anything against it.
“There are a handful of tried and true means to coerce someone or some entity to do something they would not otherwise do, and influence through financial compensation is at or near the top of the list. Objectively, $500 million is certainly a significant financial influence,” wrote attorneys Andrew Bakaj and Kyle Gardiner from Whistleblower Aid in their filing on Donovan’s behalf.
Donovan claims Schrage interrupted her, visibly agitated, and attempted to downplay her findings. Following this, Kennedy School dean Doug Elmendorf, a personal friend of former Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, made inquiries about her research that raised suspicions of contact with Meta leadership.
Donovan alleges that she faced increased oversight and funding cutoffs for TASC soon after these inquiries.
Elmendorf later informed her about plans to “wind down” the project, imposing restrictions on fundraising and new research. Around the fall semester of 2022, the dean announced to Donovan that she could not fundraise, begin new research, or hire anyone new. Donovan eventually left Harvard and continued her work at Boston University.
While this happened, the Chan Zuckerberg Institute, associated with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, donated $500 million to Harvard for an AI institute.
This came when Donovan was informed that a shortage of funds was why her program was being shut down. Donovan’s filing suggests a connection between this donation and Harvard’s actions, implying financial influence.
Harvard denies Donovan’s claims, stating she was offered a chance to continue as a part-time adjunct lecturer, which she declined.
The allegations raise questions about potential undue influence on academic research, and the matter is under investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general and the US Education Department.