An individual who reported misconduct: Harvard silenced a team addressing misinformation after receiving a $500 million donation from Zuckerberg.

A well-known expert on disinformation, who departed from Harvard University in August, has alleged that the institution restricted her freedom of speech and hindered her research efforts. She claims that her team’s work was impeded and eventually dissolved as they delved into a valuable collection of Facebook data that she believes to be crucial in the history of the internet.

The actions impacting Joan Donovan’s work coincided with a $500 million donation to Harvard by a foundation run by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. In a whistleblower disclosure made public Monday, Donovan seeks investigations into “inappropriate influence” from Harvard’s general counsel, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Education.

The head of Whistleblower Aid, a non-profit organization that advocates for Donovan, condemned the reported actions of Harvard’s Kennedy School and its dean as a “surprising breach” of academic honesty at the prestigious institution.

Libby Liu, CEO, stated in a press release that Harvard’s actions, whether prompted by the company or independent, have resulted in the same outcome: research and academic freedom are being compromised in favor of corporate interests, which is harmful to the public.

The Kennedy School denied the claims made in the disclosure about unfair treatment and donor interference. According to their spokesperson, James F. Smith, the narrative is filled with incorrect information and unfounded implications, specifically the idea that Harvard Kennedy School allowed Facebook to control its research methods.

The statement from Whistleblower Aid reported that Donovan claimed Dean Douglas Elmendorf inflicted constant and severe criticism on her team when she started developing a comprehensive strategy in October 2021 to establish a research hub for the “Facebook Files,” which were compiled by former employee Frances Haugen to expose potential negative impacts on the public.

After the revelations, Zuckerberg renamed Facebook as Meta.

A representative from Meta, Andy Stone, stated that the company had no statement regarding the disagreement between Donovan and Harvard.

Although the company publicly claimed that Haugen was exaggerating internal research, Donovan and other external researchers saw the documents as proof that Facebook’s design was causing radicalization, its algorithms promoting racial hostility, inciting ethnic cleansing, and harming the mental health of teenagers.

“In a Monday interview, Donovan expressed his sincere belief that these were the most crucial documents in the history of the internet. As academics, our responsibility is not to show bias or engage in public relations. It is to present the truth, even if it may be uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I was terminated from my position for fulfilling this duty.”

Donovan alleged that Elmendorf hindered her ability to hire and start projects, thereby impeding her fundraising efforts. He also prohibited her from organizing conferences with more than 30 participants and stopped her from launching a podcast, citing concerns about increasing her public visibility. As a result, Donovan was forced to suspend media interviews and limit her publications to opinion pieces.

Donovan stated that their intention was to participate in the 2024 elections. They had accumulated $4.5 million to fund their efforts until then.

Donovan stated that she declined a severance package following the early termination of her contract, as she believed it would make her complicit in accepting hush money.

In 2018, Donovan was recruited by Harvard and now serves as an assistant professor at Boston University. She was later appointed as research director for the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center in May 2020, where she also teaches classes.

According to the Kennedy School, Donovan was not fired but rather her position as a staff member was terminated. The school clarified that only faculty members are allowed to lead research projects and despite their efforts, they were unable to find another faculty member to take over the project. As a result, the project was given a year to wrap up and most of the research team remained in their roles. Donovan stated that Harvard offered her a position as a lecturer without health insurance.

Donovan stated that she was not informed of any efforts to find a replacement for the lead position in the research project. She also mentioned that she was the founder of the project and had successfully raised $12 million for it.

In their announcement, The Kennedy School stated that they did not receive any portion of the Chan-Zuckerberg donation. The donation was instead given to Harvard University for an unrelated initiative focused on artificial intelligence.

Chan and Zuckerberg both attended Harvard University, the initial launching place of Facebook.

Harvard eventually published a collection of the Facebook Files, although Donovan stated that it was not as ambitious and transparent as she had hoped.

Meta was consulted on redactions to the roughly 20,000 images in that archive and the Kennedy School team managing it decided to make about 160 of the more than 800 redactions requested by the company — in nearly every case to remove the name of low-level Meta employees or outside people for privacy reasons, Smith said. He added that the Kennedy School’s Public Interest Tech Lab gave researchers early access to the archive in May 2023 and it became more fully public in October.