New Database: Zuckerberg and Meta Reach Deep into Academia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 6, 2023
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), and the Real Facebook Oversight Board (RFOB) released a searchable database of donations made by Meta and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to a broad array of colleges and universities across the United States. The database identifies more than 100 institutions that received funding from either Meta or the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). Notably, some of the donations are large enough to support entire programs or make up a significant portion of a university’s funding, creating an opportunity to wield substantial influence over the institution. The release of the database comes only several days after ex-Harvard disinformation scholar Dr. Joan Donovan went public as a whistleblower, accusing the school of dropping support for her work in deference to a $500 million donation from CZI.
Along with the database, TTP released a report outlining some notable insights which help contextualize certain donations. The review found that Meta’s donations are generally tied to its own products, including its Meta Quest VR headsets, while CZI’s giving spans an array of subjects, including K-12 education, artificial intelligence, and biomedical research. While some of the larger CZI donations went to research powerhouses like Harvard or the University of California, Berkeley, others went to smaller schools. For example, between 2018 and 2021, CZI committed over $60 million to the University of Hawai’i system, which is equivalent to roughly 13% of the university’s 2022 endowment.
In some cases, Meta appears to have embedded its representatives and employees in the programs to which it provided funding. The BAIR Open Research Commons within the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research program—which received unspecified support from Meta in 2019—is managed by a “Facebook AI scientific committee,” which greenlights student research proposals. Meta’s AI research director served in a leadership role in the Berkeley program at the time the partnership was announced. Similarly, two Meta employees hold advisory positions at the University of Washington’s Reality Lab, which was launched in 2018 with industry support including a $2 million contribution from Meta.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “These donations allow for CZI or Meta to influence the direction of these institutions in direct or indirect ways. Simply the knowledge that one’s benefactor is looking over one’s shoulder can be a powerful motivator, and it’s something to keep in mind when examining the impact of these philanthropic and corporate gifts.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.