For this week’s process post, I will be focusing on one of the readings we did for class that I found to be very interesting. The theme for this week’s lesson focuses on digital literacy and critical thinking. Social media has become a main source of news for many people, and with this, the rise of fake news and mis-infoirmation has become more prevalent in today’s society and media. The Technology and Social Change Project (TaSC) based out of Harvard University has been a leading group of individuals in researching, detecting, and combatting media manipulation, so learning that the project will be shut down in 2024 came as a shock (Harwell et al, 2023). Before we continue, you may be wondering what media manipulation is exactly. Essentially, media manipulation is media that we are exposed to that influences ideas, opinions, and attitudes that we most likely would not have adopted on our own. With social media only becoming a more powerful tool and popular source of news, the work of projects like TaSC is essential to allow for the public and all of the world for that matter, to be able to decipher which media is truthful or false.
The Technology and Social Change Project is led by the widely known media expert, Dr. Joan Donovan. As I briefly stated above, TaSC explores the impacts of media manipulation and most importantly, how it serves as a means to control public conversation, politics, and disrupt society. What TaSC focuses on is conducting research in this area, developing methods on how to combat and detect media manipulation, and hosting workshops that can share their knowledge with journalists and other media workers (Harvard). Some of the projects best known published work consists of research and content regarding Covid-19 hoaxes throughout the pandemic, as well as the online response after the riot in the U.S. Capital in 2021. Joan Donovan is not a faculty member, and because of the school’s policy, she is no longer able to continue leading the project as she would have to be a faculty member of the University to do so.
While I can understand the school’s policy, I am curious as to why Harvard is deciding to shut down the project now, after it has been up and running (as well as successful), for a couple of years now. Donovan is a research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy within the Harvard Kennedy School Institution. The Institution is clearly familiar with Donovan and her work, and if anything, her expertise and knowledge has made a very positive impact on the University by founding TaSC. The Technology and Social Change Project has made breakthroughs and significant research that has expanded outside of the University walls and into educating society on media manipulation. Not only is society and media research going to be losing a significant resource with this project shutting down, but Harvard students will be losing out as well.
I am interested to see whether or not Donovan will continue to develop the TaSC independently or if she is even allowed to do so. It would be a shame to see an organization that has contributed meaningful work into such an important and emerging field completely disappear. To learn more about Harvard’s decision, you can check out the article I have been referring to for this week: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/02/02/misinformation-harvard-donovan-close/
Harvard Kennedy School. Faculty Profiles: Joan Donovan. Cambridge, MA, USA. https://www.hks.harvard.edu/faculty/joan-donovan
Harwell, D., Menn, J. (2023). Harvard is shutting down project that studied social media misinformation. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/02/02/misinformation-harvard-donovan-close/