Skip to the main content
This is a Berkman Klein alum page. The information below may be out of date.

Dr. Joan Donovan is the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Dr. Donovan leads the field in examining internet and technology studies, online extremism, media manipulation, and disinformation campaigns.

Dr. Donovan leads The Technology and Social Change Project (TaSC). TaSC explores how media manipulation is a means to control public conversation, derail democracy, and disrupt society. TaSC conducts research, develops methods, and facilitates workshops for journalists, policy makers, technologists, and civil society organizations on how to detect, document, and debunk media manipulation campaigns. Dr. Donovan and the TaSC team produce: 

Dr. Donovan's research and teaching interests are focused on media manipulation, effects of disinformation campaigns, and adversarial media movements. She teaches 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 Breakdown
Dec 1, 2020

The Breakdown: Joan Donovan on domestic misinformation

Q&A covers election misinformation, content moderation, and COVID-19

Q&A covers election misinformation, content moderation, and COVID-19



Why the ‘Twitter Files’ Are Falling Flat

Joan Donovan writes about the Twitter Files and Elon Musk’s failing attempts to shape the media’s narrative. “In fact, what the “Twitter Files” reveal is what we already knew…

Dec 15, 2022
Boston Globe

A Harvard professor predicted COVID disinformation on the web. Here’s what may be coming next

Joan Donovan explains the dangers of spreading falsehoods on social media and the challenges with stopping misinformation.

Aug 23, 2021

Public health’s next shot at fixing its data problem

Joan Donovan shares insights on the government's ability to control misinformation on social media.

Jul 21, 2021
Harvard Magazine

Can Disinformation Be Stopped?

Joan Donavan and Yochai Benkler share insights on the causes and effects of disinformation

Jun 16, 2021
The Atlantic

Facebook Won’t Talk About the Insurrection

evelyn douek and Joan Donovan comment on Facebook’s response to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Jun 7, 2021

Where did the microchip vaccine conspiracy theory come from anyway?

Joan Donovan shares findings from her research on vaccine misinformation.

Jun 5, 2021

Viral Lies

Joan Donovan explores vaccine disinformation and the election.

Jun 5, 2021
Columbia Journalism Review

From the Existential Issue: Post-truth and the press

Joan Donovan discusses “post truth,” press manipulation, and right-wing media lies

May 4, 2021

Inside QAnon

Joan Donovan discusses QAnon with CNN.

Apr 10, 2021
The Washington Post

YouTube says it’s getting better at taking down videos that break its rules. They still number in the millions.

Joan Donovan discusses disinformation on YouTube with The Washington Post.

Apr 6, 2021
Media Manipulation Casebook

Mitigating Medical Misinformation

Joan Donovan and colleagues publish a whole-of-society approach to countering spam, scams, and hoaxes

Mar 30, 2021
Columbia Journalism Review

How a racialized disinformation campaign ties itself to The 1619 Project

Research from Joan Donovan and colleague shows how right-wing media enabled a disinformation campaign around The 1619 Project

Mar 11, 2021

Anatomy of a lie: How the myth that Antifa stormed the Capitol became a widespread belief among Republicans

Joan Donovan talks to CNN about political disinformation campaigns.

Mar 2, 2021
MIT Technology Review

How a Democratic plan to reform Section 230 could backfire

Joan Donovan and Jonathan Zittrain weigh in on proposed Section 230 reforms

Feb 8, 2021

Tracking QAnon: how Trump turned conspiracy-theory research upside down

Joan Donovan discusses QAnon, disinformation, and platform responsibility in Nature.

Feb 4, 2021

The GameStop Chaos Is Coming for Politics, Too

Joan Donovan draws parallels between Occupy Wall Street and GameStop

Feb 4, 2021
The Guardian

Big tech was allowed to spread misinformation unchecked. Will Biden hold them accountable?

Joan Donovan and colleague argue that antitrust enforcement will hold platforms accountable

Jan 27, 2021
The New Yorker

Biden’s Vital but Fraught Battle Against Domestic Terrorism

Joan Donovan describes how disinformation can contribute to radicalization in The New Yorker.

Jan 25, 2021

Can We Restore A Collective Understanding of Reality, Please?

Joan Donovan and Rob Faris pen op-ed calling for media accountability

Jan 19, 2021
The Washington Post

‘Disinformation can be a very lucrative business, especially if you’re good at it,’ media scholar says

Joan Donovan discusses the Capitol attack and disinformation

Jan 19, 2021

‘The Internet Is a Crime Scene’

Politico interviews Joan Donovan about misinformation

Jan 14, 2021

Facial Recognition Technology Isn’t Good Just Because It’s Used to Arrest Neo-Nazis

Joan Donovan and colleague warn against using facial recognition technology in Slate

Jan 12, 2021
The Guardian

The Capitol siege was the biggest media spectacle of the Trump era

Joan Donovan and colleagues say the storm on the Capitol was the culmination of a presidency defined by media manipulation and networked conspiracism

Jan 11, 2021

Twitter, FB have deplatformed Trump. Is it enough?

Joan Donovan on what lawmakers and companies need to do to address the weaponization of social media and disinformation

Jan 9, 2021
Journalist's Resource

Covering pro-Trump rallies and far-right groups

Joan Donovan shares four tips for journalists covering pro-Trump rallies and far-right groups for Journalist’s Resource.

Jan 8, 2021
Marketplace Tech

Insurrection could be a turning point for social media

Joan Donovan joins Marketplace Tech podcast

Jan 7, 2021
MIT Technology Review

Without leadership on vaccine rollout, scams are inevitable

Joan Donovan in MIT Technology Review

Jan 6, 2021

Biden’s plan to fight online harassment could set up new confrontation with tech companies, experts say

Joan Donovan comments on platform approaches to harassment and what it means for researchers

Nov 10, 2020
MIT Technology Review

Why social media can’t keep moderating content in the shadows

Online platforms aren’t transparent about their decisions—which masks the true costs of misinformation

Nov 6, 2020
The Guardian

Facebook removes pro-Trump Stop the Steal group over 'calls for violence'

Joan Donovan comments on Facebook’s takedown efforts during the election

Nov 5, 2020
The New York Times

Unclear Result a Recipe for Disinformation, Researchers Say

Joan Donovan discusses misinformation in the wake of the 2020 US presidential election.

Nov 4, 2020

How disinformation infiltrated the mainstream

Joan Donovan joins the Today show to talk about disinformation.

Nov 1, 2020
The New York Times

How Three Election-Related Falsehoods Spread

Joan Donovan talks to the New York Times about election misinformation.

Oct 30, 2020
ABC News

Disinformation in 2020

Joan Donovan explains recent disinformation campaigns

Oct 30, 2020
The Washington Post

’Media Manipulation Casebook’ from Harvard teaches how to detect misinformation campaigns

A new resource from Joan Donovan and the Shorenstein Center was featured in a newsletter from The Washington Post.

Oct 28, 2020

Who Will Win the 2020 Meme War?

Joan Donovan asks, “when does a meme become disinformation?”

Oct 27, 2020
The New York Times

I Spoke to a Scholar of Conspiracy Theories and I’m Scared for Us

Joan Donovan profiled by New York Times for her work on disinformation

Oct 21, 2020
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Oct 23, 2023 @ 6:00 PM

The YouTube Effect: film screening and conversation with director Alex Winter

Join us for a screening of "The YouTube Effect," followed by a conversation with writer-director Alex Winter, BU professor Joan Donovan, data scientist Avriel Epps, and HLS…

Oct 3, 2022 @ 12:00 PM

Book Talk: Black Skinhead & Meme Wars

On Mon., Oct. 3 there was a unique hybrid book talk with Brandi Collins-Dexter, Joan Donovan, Brian Friedberg...

Dec 1, 2020 @ 12:00 PM

The True Costs of Misinformation

Video & Podcast: Producing Moral and Technical Order in a Time of Pandemonium

Video & Podcast: Misinformation-at-scale is now a feature of most major social media platforms, what can be done to mitigate its effects on the public?

Oct 20, 2020 @ 12:00 PM

Two Geniuses Walk into a Zoom

Podcast & Video: A Conversation with Tressie McMillan Cottom & Mary L. Gray

Podcast & Video: Tressie McMillan Cottom & Mary L. Gray discuss their latest work in relation to their recent MacArthur Fellows award.