Harvard publication sued for defamation in ‘disinformation’ dispute

Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore are the leaders of a movement called ADOS, or American Descendants of Slavery. Carnell founded the ADOS Advocacy Foundation, a group that works to secure trillions in financial reparations for black people. ADOS courted controversy by urging black voters in 2020 not to vote for Joe Biden or Donald Trump for president, but to vote for Democrats in short-ballot races.

ADOS was criticized in a January 2021 article published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, an academic journal dedicated to studying the spread of misinformation.

The article claimed that ADOS’ activities “implicitly or explicitly support anti-Black political groups and causes”. The newspaper accused the foundation of spreading “right-wing talking points and reporting”, such as tweets critical of immigration. And he alleged that the foundation “has remained largely silent on the impact of the novel coronavirus on black communities, undermining its claims to put the interests of black Americans first.”

Carnell and Moore denied those allegations, saying the ADOS voting strategy was a legitimate political tactic, not a gimmick to help the GOP. And they pointed to social media posts where ADOS leaders were urging fans to protect themselves from COVID infection. (The organization canceled its 2020 convention to prevent the spread of COVID.)

In the face of these criticisms, Misinformation Review staff launched an internal review that “found flaws in the methodology, as well as discrepancies between the data and the conclusions reported by the authors,” according to a statement released by the journal. A second review of the paper, led by a political science professor at Penn State University, came to similar conclusions.

Last December, the Misinformation Review announced its decision to retract the article, saying that “some of the key findings reported in this article cannot be considered reliable or valid.”

But Carnell and Moore want more than a retraction. They seek unspecified damages for defamation, negligence and emotional suffering. Among the defendants named in the lawsuit is the left-wing political organization MoveOn.org. Five of the article’s co-authors are members of the group, which backed Joe Biden for president.

Carnell told the Globe earlier this year that she believed the journal article was a deliberate effort by MoveOn.org to cripple its organization, rather than an attempt at objective scientific research.

Lance Filer, an attorney who represents Carnell and Moore, said the Misinformation Review article continues to do serious damage to the reputation of the ADOS foundation. Filer said simply removing the article was not enough, calling it “an insufficient attempt to ring the bell”.

A Harvard Kennedy School spokesperson said that because the matter was before the courts, the school would not comment.

Hiawatha Bray can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.

Jacob L. Thornton