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Dr. Joan Donovan is Director of the Technology and Social Change (TaSC) Research Project at the Shorenstein Center. Dr. Donovan leads the field in examining internet and technology studies, online extremism, media manipulation, and disinformation campaigns.

Dr. Donovan's research and teaching interests are focused on media manipulation, effects of disinformation campaigns, and adversarial media movements. This fall, she will be teaching a graduate-level course on Media Manipulation and Disinformation Campaigns (DPI-622) with a focus on how social movements, political parties, governments, corporations, and other networked groups engage in active efforts to shape media narratives and disrupt social institutions.

Dr. Donovan's research can be found in academic peer-reviewed journals such as Social Media + SocietyJournal of Contemporary Ethnography (JCE)Information, Communication & SocietySocial Studies of Science, and Online Information Review. Her contributions can also be found in the books, Data Science Landscape: Towards Research Standards and Protocols and Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives. Dr. Donovan's research and expertise has been showcased in a wide array of media outlets including NPR, Washington Post, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, and more.

Prior to joining Harvard Kennedy School, Dr. Donovan was the Research Lead for Data & Society’s Media Manipulation Initiative, where she led a large team of researchers studying efforts to manipulate sociotechnical systems for political gain. She continues to hold an affiliate appointment with Data & Society.

Dr. Donovan received her Ph.D. in Sociology and Science Studies from the University of California San Diego, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, where she studied white supremacists’ use of DNA ancestry tests, social movements, and technology.

The Technology and Social Change (TaSC) Research Project, led by Dr. Donovan, aims to understand how media manipulation is a means to control public conversation, derail democracy, and disrupt society. The project conducts research, develops tools, and facilitates workshops for journalists, policy makers, technologists, and civil society organizations on how to detect, document, and debunk media manipulation campaigns. The  project is creating a research platform called the Global Media Manipulation Case Book (GMMCB), which will include 100 case studies to advance our knowledge of how misinformation travels across the web and platforms. 


Community

MIT Technology Review

Why Congress should look at Twitter and Facebook

“We cannot build a healthy democracy on top of an ailing communication system”

Jul 27, 2020
Scientific American

A Nixon Deepfake, a 'Moon Disaster' Speech and an Information Ecosystem at Risk

Jonathan Zittrain, Danielle Citron, and Joan Donovan provide expert commentary

Jul 20, 2020
Oxford Internet Institute

Disinformation by Design: How Media Manipulation Campaigns Are Constructed

Joan Donovan discusses new article on platform design and disinformation

Jul 7, 2020
Wired

You Purged Racists From Your Website? Great, Now Get to Work

Joan Donovan says social media sites can—and must—take action to control the content on their sites.

Jul 1, 2020
The New York Times

Who’s a Bot? Who’s Not?

Joan Donovan and Jonas Kaiser discuss challenges with studying automated bots on social media

Jun 16, 2020
NPR

The 'Concerned Citizen Who Happens To Be Armed' Is Showing Up At Protests

Joan Donovan talks to NPR about riot rumors and disinformation

Jun 10, 2020
MIT Technology Review

Protest misinformation is riding on the success of pandemic hoaxes

Joan Donovan says misinformation about police brutality protests is being spread by the same sources as covid-19 denial.

Jun 10, 2020
The Hill

Conspiracy theories run rampant online amid Floyd protests

Joan Donovan explains the power social media has in spreading misinformation

Jun 3, 2020
ABC News

Who is spreading COVID-19 misinformation and why

The many different groups and individuals that spread false information.

May 26, 2020
The New York Times

Twitter Grapples Anew With Its Trump Conundrum

Joan Donovan weighs in on Twitter creating a carve-out for public leaders

May 26, 2020
CNET

Political ads put Twitter, Facebook and Google in a bind. Here's why.

Joan Donovan weighs in on targeted ads on social media

May 18, 2020

Disinformation by Design: The Use of Evidence Collages and Platform Filtering in a Media Manipulation Campaign

A new paper co-authored by BKC affiliate Joan Donovan explores tactics of disinformation to show how platform design and decentralized communication contribute to advancing the…

May 5, 2020
MIT Technology Review

Covid hoaxes are using a loophole to stay alive—even after content is deleted

Pandemic conspiracy theorists are using the Wayback Machine to promote “zombie content” that evades moderators and fact-checkers

Apr 30, 2020
Nature

Social-media companies must flatten the curve of misinformation

The pandemic lays bare the failure to quarantine online scams, hoaxes and lies amid political battles.

Apr 14, 2020
Nieman Reports

Vote and Die: Covering Voter Suppression during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Journalists must cut through rampant disinformation around the pandemic to robustly report on efforts to suppress voting and delegitimize election results writes Joan Donovan

Apr 14, 2020
Politico

Coronavirus-killing silver, fake tests, CDC impersonators: Feds rush to stamp out scams

Joan Donovan on the dozens, if not hundreds of scams that have popped up online as quickly as the coronavirus itself

Apr 11, 2020
NBC News

Coronavirus misinformation makes neutrality a distant memory for tech companies

Facing the prospect that hoaxes or misinformation could worsen a global pandemic, tech platforms are taking control of the information ecosystem like never before.

Mar 24, 2020
MIT Technology Review

Here’s how social media can combat the coronavirus ‘infodemic’

With millions on lockdown, Facebook and Twitter are major sources of Covid-19 news. They’re also where misinformation thrives. How can platforms step up?

Mar 17, 2020
The Washington Post

In fast-moving pandemic, sources of falsehoods elude authorities

Misleading text messages claiming that President Trump was going to announce a national quarantine buzzed into cellphones across the country over the weekend, underscoring how…

Mar 16, 2020
NBC News

How new rules at Facebook and Twitter led to a warning beneath a Trump retweet

A video of Joe Biden that was deceptively edited to make it appear as if he endorsed President Donald Trump for re-election triggered warning labels from Twitter and Facebook

Mar 9, 2020
CNBC

In Facebook groups, coronavirus misinformation thrives despite broader crackdown

Dozens of public and private Facebook groups totaling hundreds of thousands of members have become a haven for conspiracy theories, medical equipment promotion and unproven cures.

Mar 6, 2020
The Knight Foundation

The Internet Unleashed

BKC affiliate Joan Donovan spoke at the Knight Media Forum

Feb 26, 2020
NBC News

'Wake-up call': Iowa caucus disinformation serves as warning about 2020 election

The specificity of both Twitter and Facebook’s rules around disinformation leave room for known disinformation agents to work during elections, said Joan Donovan.

Feb 4, 2020
NBC News

Coronavirus misinformation surges, fueled by clout chasers

Joan Donovan and Natalie Gyenes spoke to NBC News about the coronavirus and misinformation

Jan 30, 2020
The Washington Post

Facebook, Google and Twitter scramble to stop misinformation about coronavirus

Joan Donovan spoke to The Washington Post about the coronavirus and misinformation.

Jan 27, 2020
WGBH

How To Spot Fake News

Joan Donovan participated in a panel of scholars who study media manipulation, digital resources, and the spread of misinformation on how to spot “fake news” in an age of…

Jan 13, 2020
Columbia Journalism Review

YouTube and Radicalization

Joan Donovan talks with Mathew Ingram of Columbia Journalism Review

Jan 11, 2020
Medium

High school students, social media and the illusion of free speech

Joan Donovan shares insights on a recently released report on high school students’ views on First Amendment protections

Nov 20, 2019
Centre for International Governance Innovation

What Does Twitter's Ban on Political Ads Mean for Platform Governance?

Joan Donovan and Elizabeth Dubois weigh in

Nov 5, 2019
Centre for International Governance Innovation

Navigating the Tech Stack: When, Where and How Should We Moderate Content?

Joan Donovan describes content moderation in the context of a tech stack

Oct 28, 2019
MIT Technology Review

How memes got weaponized: A short history

Memes come off as a joke, but some people are starting to see them as the serious threat they are.

Oct 24, 2019
NiemanReports

Trudeau’s Blackface: The Chilling Effects of Disinformation on Political Engagement

During election season, journalists should be ready for even more sophisticated attempts to plant false narratives and to spin disinformation via legitimate news stories

Oct 3, 2019
98.5 The Sports Hub

Using digital information to manipulate public opinion

Joan Donovan explains how digital information is weaponized

Sep 22, 2019
Columbia Journalism Review

Source hacking: How trolls manipulate the media

Data & Society report aims to create a taxonomy of trolling tactics.

Sep 12, 2019
Data & Society

Source Hacking: Media Manipulation in Practice

Data & Society report uses case studies to illustrate four main techniques of source hacking

Sep 4, 2019
Buzzfeed News

With This Statement, I Give Notice That Instagram Owns Your Soul

People posting a pseudo-legal declaration may believe they're in a two-way dialogue with the company. The opposite is true.

Aug 23, 2019
Journal of Design and Science

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Bot

An exploration of what happens when politically motivated humans impersonate vulnerable people or populations online to exploit their voices, positionality and power.

Aug 7, 2019
Shorenstein Center

Dr. Joan Donovan, Shorenstein Center expert, comments on El Paso, 8chan, and what’s next

BKC affiliate responds to El Paso shooting, use of manifestos as a tactic, and explains how extremists manipulate the media to control public conversation

Aug 6, 2019
NBC News

El Paso shooter wasn't a 'lone wolf' — and his so-called online 'manifesto' proves why

While we often think about those who commit mass violence as acting individually, we must reckon with the fact that these extremists are never alone online.

Aug 5, 2019
Rolling Stone

A Jeffrey Epstein-Clinton Conspiracy Theory Was Trending — And That’s a Problem

A report that the Epstein was injured in jail dredged up a conspiracy theory about the Clintons — and thanks to a hashtag, the baseless rumor likely has a whole lot of new…

Jul 25, 2019
Journalist's Resource

10 tips for covering white supremacy and far-right extremists

Q&A with Journalist’s Resource offers advice for journalists

Jul 22, 2019
The Washington Post

How Trump put himself in charge of Twitter’s decency standards

Twitter has ceded responsibility for governing its own platform to its most prolific and controversial user, says BKC affiliate Joan Donovan.

Jul 19, 2019
The New York Times

How White Nationalists See What They Want to See in DNA Tests

What happens when white supremacists on the hate site Stormfront learn that they’re not as white as they thought? Two researchers investigated.

Jul 12, 2019
The Atlantic

How Hate Groups’ Secret Sound System Works

White supremacists exploit the weaknesses in the social-media ecosystem as Facebook and Google struggle to keep up.

Mar 17, 2019