A pal­pable hostility toward the basic concept of higher education

From the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), a story by Joshua Cuevas about the lengths far-right cyberbullies will go to harm people they perceive as enemies.

A 2017 Pew poll regarding Americans’ views on higher education, specifically those of Republicans, should alarm educators and, indeed, all citizens. Pew found that nearly 60 percent of Republicans currently believe that colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the country. One would expect that most parents would want their children to complete some form of postsecondary education, if only out of concern for their future earning potential. But among many on the right there is a pal­pable hostility toward the basic concept of higher education, as if college attendance made one part of a liberal conspiracy, and professors have come to be viewed as the embodiment of what many resent in American culture: political correctness, diversity, willingness to look to science for answers, secularism, feminism, intellectualism, socialism, and a host of other “isms.”

It started – surprise surprise – with a social media conversation about the election soon after it happened. A guy got mad at the author.

Shortly afterward, I received a personal message from the OP, who had now taken on a differ­ent identity, as a young female college student. He indicated that he had taken his grievances about me to an anonymous forum and closed with the threat, “This is going to be bad for you.” People with whom I had never had previous contact began to send me messages. One of the first said, “You’re a nigger.” Another called me a “faggott” [sic]. One attacked my preteen daughter as illegitimate. Several other indi­viduals, including a person who identified himself on his personal page as being employed as a data scientist at Facebook, used the phrase, “You must go back.” I did not initially understand what he meant by this but quickly came to realize that he was implying that, because I am Hispanic, I should be deported.

I did not respond, but I did examine each person’s page for patterns and commonalities. Some of the attacks came from dummy accounts, false profiles likely set up specifically for this type of situation—to enable anonymous attacks without the risk of expo­sure or retribution. Of the profiles that appeared to be real, most of them “liked,” or were part of, pro-Trump groups, and most were followers of former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

A link to my Rate My Professors page made it clear that their attacks were expanding. Apparently some­one had Googled my name and discovered that I was a professor; the open nature of Rate My Professors provided an opportunity for more attacks. Soon, sixty new “reviews” of my teaching, all uniformly vulgar, appeared. Some referred to bestiality; one complained about my supposed use of “Mein Kamp” [sic] in the classroom.

Similarly profane and racially motivated mes­sages appeared in my university email. One was formatted like a student inquiry, asking whether one of my courses was a prerequisite to a course titled JEWS1488; another was just a string of profanity.

Then I received a message from an actual student, who contacted me after stumbling across the source of the spam and abuse I had been receiving. He provided links to threads on a website that is know to be a cess­pool of white supremacist activity and suggested that I make screenshots to document the discussion there.

The messages I had received seemed tepid in com­parison with these threads. Protected by anonymity, the participants felt no need to conceal their bigotry.

The OP had taken one of my comments from the original article on the election and had posted it in one thread. He fabricated other comments and attributed them to me. The OP knew the kinds of information that would agitate visitors to the site—mention of my Hispanic background, reference to my liberal leanings, threats (supposedly from me) to shut down their website, and so on. The post­ers were unaware that I had written almost none of the statements the OP had posted. The depravity of their comments would have been unacceptable in any civilized environment. One commenter used an ava­tar that displayed an image of Hitler superimposed across a flag with a swastika.

Much of what was posted initially revolved around my Hispanic origins. Commenters suggested that I needed to be deported and called me a “spic.” As a liberal-leaning Hispanic professor, I was a perfect target for white supremacists.

Their plans became darker and more elaborate. One commenter suggested that their remote attacks on me be expanded to include my family. Another suggested that they take images they had found of my wife and Photoshop them in profane ways. They began to draft letters to send to administrators at my university and provided suggestions for editing to incriminate me. One commenter suggested they alter a screenshot they had created to make it appear as though I had used the term nigger. Another suggested that they accuse me of anti-Semitism. Their stated goal was to see that I was fired. This, apparently, was the type of opportunity they relished: find a person to harass, maybe by drawing him or her into a politi­cal argument, locate any information they could find online, and then coordinate attacks in an attempt to damage the person as much as possible.

And on, and on, and on. It was sustained and systematic and as damaging as they could make it – which, because they left trails and made mistakes, was not all that damaging, but not for want of trying.

Yet Michael Shermer’s Skeptic magazine portrays the left as the Scary Faction.

Image result for skeptic magazine

 

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