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Assistant Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media Studies, Boston University

Joan Donovan, PhD, is an assistant professor of journalism and emerging media studies at Boston University. Dr. Donovan leads the field in examining internet and technology studies, online extremism, media manipulation, and disinformation campaigns. She is the founder of The Critical Internet Studies Institute, a nonprofit based in Boston that advocates for a public interest internet.

She co-invented the beaver emoji: 🦫

She is the coauthor of Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America, with with Emily Dreyfuss and Brian Friedberg.

Dr. Donovan’s research explores how media manipulation is a means to control public conversation, derail democracy, and disrupt society. She 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.

Formerly, Dr. Donovan was the Research Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media Politics and Public Policy, where she directed the Technology and Social Change Research Project. Her team researched media manipulation, disinformation, and adversarial media movements and published open access textbook, the Media Manipulation Casebook.

Dr. Donovan’s academic research can be found in academic peer-reviewed journals such as Social Studies of Science, Social Media + Society, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Information, Communication & Society, 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 public scholarship has been showcased in a wide array of media mainstream outlets, including MIT Technology Review, 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. 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. Her research won awards in 2020 from the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Social Studies of Science.


  • –present
    Research Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy , Harvard Kennedy School


  • 2015 
    Harvard Kennedy School, Sociology and Science Studies