Harvard ending social media misinformation project next year

Social media
Greg Nash
Social media apps are arranged for a photograph on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.

Harvard University is shutting down a project that has tracked misinformation on social media for the past few years. 

Nancy Gibbs, the director of Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Safety, said in an email to members of the center’s advisory board on Friday that the school has been winding down the center’s Technology and Social Change Project until it ends next year. 

She said Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf informed the project’s leader, Joan Donovan, last summer that the project will need to conclude by June 2024 because research needs to be led by a faculty member. Donovan is considered a research director on the staff, but has not joined the faculty.

The project has notably covered misinformation pertaining to a range of major topics online, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. 

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, first reported on Thursday that the project will end. 

Gibbs said the project will be fully funded until it ends, and its research will continue under the current leaders. She said Elmendorf told Donovan that the project cannot expand with new funding or staff members or major initiatives during the transition because of school policy. 

She noted in an email on Thursday to community members of the Shorenstein Center that while “limited” exceptions exist to the rule of a faculty member leading research, the project cannot continue indefinitely without one.

The policy has been followed at the school for many years, Gibbs said. She added that the school will continue other work on misinformation with its other projects, including the Misinformation Review and the Public Interest Tech Lab’s Facebook archive project. 

“We are supportive of the entire [Technology and Social Change Project] team during this period and are making every effort to ensure they make a successful transition that allows them and their work to flourish in the future,” she said. 

Donovan has been cited in many cases as an expert on misinformation. 

A spokesperson for Harvard Kennedy School forwarded Gibbs’ messages to the center’s community and advisory board when asked for comment. The spokesperson emphasized that the change is about the policy requiring a faculty leader for research instead of any individual.

Tags Harvard University misinformation Nancy Gibbs Social media

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