The term misinformation has been all the rage over the past three years after leftists realized they needed a new way to label opinions that contradicted their own. Indeed, after former President Donald Trump’s “fake news” attacks seemed to fall on deaf ears, members of the activist media were left without a way to convince the nation that every argument they don’t like is somehow erroneous without having to present a rebuttal.
This new era has spawned the misinformation expert, typically an academic type who focuses on suppressing right-leaning voices on social media platforms. But the fate of one such professional might slow this trend, to the likely dismay of progressives.
Prominent Misinformation Expert Put Out to Pasture
Online misinformation expert Joan M. Donovan, who has been a fixture in the debate over online content, is losing her job at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). Three staff members told The Crimson that the school is ending her research project.
“Donovan was told she has until summer 2024 to end the Technology and Social Change project and depart from her role at HKS, according to the staff members,” the report stated. “Donovan, who is not a tenure-track professor, has led the project since its inception in 2019 and serves as the Shorenstein Center’s research director. Donovan has also taught at HKS as an adjunct lecturer in public policy.”
A spokesperson for the school confirmed in an email that HKS is ending Donovan’s assignment. “The Technology and Social Change project is winding down — through an extended transition — because it does not have intellectual and academic leadership by a full HKS faculty member, as required of all long-term research and outreach projects at HKS,” he wrote.
Donovan was on the tip of the spear of the movement to bring the subject of misinformation and disinformation into the public square. It became prevalent amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was used as an excuse to silence accounts that expressed views on the coronavirus and vaccines that did not align with the Democrat-approved narrative.
After the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, the activist media attempted to blame Trump and other supposed purveyors of false information for the violence. In essence, the subject has become little more than a political weapon targeting those who use social media to argue anti-woke or anti-leftist positions.
At Harvard, Donovan was a leading force in bringing the study of disinformation to prominence in academia. She has testified in front of House and Senate subcommittees on the spread of misinformation online. She also was one of several “experts” to dismiss the Hunter Biden laptop revelations.
“So, we pretty much expected more and different styles of attack, including a leak, but was really suspicious of it, is (sic) you’ve got someone with millions of dollars. He can’t afford Geek Squad at Best Buy to come to his house for the laptop that he has evidence of crimes on? I mean, it’s really hard to believe,” she said during an appearance on a Harvard Kennedy School podcast.
The true reasons for Donovan’s ouster are not yet known. But The Crimson’s report noted that tensions between the researcher and Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf increased in the fall of 2021. This is when Donovan began working on HKS’ Facebook archive project, which will provide researchers and reporters access to documents gathered by Facebook whistleblower Frances B. Haugen. These files revealed the social media company’s research on how its technologies can have a negative impact on users.
However, the report does not indicate the nature of these “tensions” and what led to the breakdown in the relationship.
Donovan taught a course titled Democracy, Politics and Institutions 622: “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Campaigns” and also co-wrote a study whose results found that most of those who participated in the 2021 riot were inspired by Trump.
Is the Age of Misinformation Ending?
Does Donovan’s ouster indicate that the left’s ability to cast every opposing view as misinformation or disinformation is losing its luster? At this point, it seems unlikely. It appears the researcher’s firing had more to do with internal conflicts than with the subject itself. In an age in which social media companies seem aligned politically with so-called fact-checkers and misinformation experts, the left would not be eager to give up one of their favorite weapons so easily.
The fact-checking cartel has been one of Democrats’ most powerful cudgels, giving the left an edge on the interwebs. With Big Tech so willing to follow the guidance of the Donovans of the world, misinformation and disinformation will likely remain a part of the progressive lexicon for years to come.
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