Notes on Harvard’s Censorship Journal

Mike Benz:


  • Harvard’s in-house censorship journal published an article declaring the field of “mis- and disinformation studies” to be “too big to fail” and “here to stay.”​
  • Citing government funding to academic departments who study how to optimize online censorship, the Harvard magazine embraced language from the 2008 financial crisis language reserved for major banks.
  • The Harvard authors openly acknowledged the troubling links between today’s censorship regime and civil liberties violations during 1950s Cold War propaganda efforts.

“The field of mis- and disinformation studies is here to stay.” So declares the opening line of a report titled “Mis- and disinformation studies are too big to fail: Six suggestions for the field’s future,” published last September by the Harvard Misinformation Review, housed within the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy and Government. 

“Disinformation studies” is academic speak for online censorship. As the Harvard report itself concedes, the field was born “after Brexit and the election of Donald Trump—arguably catalysts for the emergence of the field.” That is, per Harvard, the involvement of US academics in online censorship happened as a reactionary response to right-wing populist political success on both sides of the Atlantic. 

As a technical matter, “disinformation studies” is a merger of social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology) and computer sciences (AI, machine learning, network theory), each converging on a common target (law-abiding citizens) to censor on social media. University social science teams conduct a “network mapping” of so-called “misinformation communities” online for takedown, and their findings are converted into specific algorithm targets by the university computer science teams.