After calling on Harvard University to reveal the names of students who signed an anti-Israel letter last month, billionaire Bill Ackman isn’t so sure anymore.
He was responding to a video posted on X that shows a masked man expressing support for Hamas and calling for the extermination of Israelis. Insider geolocated the video on Google Maps and found it was filmed on Dunster Street on the Harvard University campus. It’s unclear if the man in the video is a Harvard student.
“Thinking about it more, identifying this racist anonymous thug and giving the world an economic incentive to find him isn’t the answer,” Ackman wrote.
The billionaire said he instead imagined a “world where someone will sit down with this kid, and give him perspective on his hate speech.”
“Outing him will just increase the anger. Someone close to him that he respects needs to confront him and give him perspective,” he wrote.
Social media is the problem, Ackman now says
Ackman warned of social media’s influence on growing tensions around the world, saying it has been “amplifying the hate for a decade as algorithms wind us up.”
He called on Meta, X, and TikTok to change their content algorithms to promote common ground, and took particular aim at TikTok, saying it should “probably be banned” in the US.
“TikTok is massively manipulating public opinion. Compare the generational differences on support for Hamas,” Ackman wrote. “51% of the TikTok generation say that Hamas’ barbaric acts are justified.”
An October poll of 2,116 American voters by Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies and Harris Insights and Analytics found that 51% of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 felt Hamas’ terrorist attacks on October 7 could be “justified by the grievance of Palestinians.”
The poll also found that 48% of those between the ages of 25 and 34 felt Hamas’ attacks were justified. But overall, only 24% of all respondents believed the October 7 attacks were justified.
Notably, the same poll found that 54% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 said law firms should refuse to hire students who endorsed Hamas — aligning with Ackman’s earlier call to blacklist the Harvard letter signatories. The majority of responses from all other age demographics disagreed with Ackman and said law firms should hire such students.
A billionaire’s October campaign for names
Ackman, who founded and runs the hedge fund management firm Pershing Square, is a Harvard alumnus.
He initially bashed a group of Harvard student organizations who signed a letter blaming Israel for Hamas’ attacks, and tweeted on October 11 that he wanted to know the names of signatories so he would not hire them in the future.
As controversy brewed around Ackman’s tweet, he doubled down on his stance, saying the students in question should “be prepared to stand up and be personally accountable for his or her views” and urged them not to bank on the “Harvard brand” anonymously.
When some members of the signing organizations said they weren’t aware of the letter’s contents, Ackman suggested they convince their group to withdraw the statement or resign.
Following Ackman’s tweets, scrutiny on the Harvard letter prompted some co-signees groups to publicly withdraw their support for the statement.
Harvard President Claudine Gay said the student statement did not represent the university’s stance.