Targeted Harassment: In Brief

What happens when a faculty member or department is the target of a coordinated attack?

  • Initially, someone (frequently a student) who is offended by something a faculty member or campus group has done or said will alert an outlet such as Campus Reform or Turning Point USA (TPUSA). This alert may be sent directly or indirectly (e.g., by posting it on social media and in places where representatives of these outlets will see it).
  • Campus Reform and TPUSA then post articles about the issue or the faculty member and broadcast the situation on social media, in an effort to provoke public outrage about the incident.
  • If the issue involves a specific faculty member, TPUSA may add that faculty member to Professor Watchlist, its directory of left-leaning faculty members or faculty members TPUSA believes have demonstrated a liberal bias.
  • Similar Web sites (such as the ones cited by TPUSA’s Professor Watchlist) and blogs then pick up the story; many of these sites and blogs present themselves as news sources and, in some cases, mimic the appearance of well-known media outlets.
  • Local news media are then alerted to the story and are presented with the coverage from far-right media as evidence that there is a controversy. A “both sides” approach is frequently taken to present the story as having two genuinely opposed parties, often without analyzing how the story first came about.
  • National outlets, particularly conservative outlets such as Fox News, and notable individuals associated with these outlets may also pay attention, providing a larger platform from which to publicize the issue.
  • As the story gains traction, viewers and readers are encouraged by various outlets to contact the institution, the faculty member, and other members of the institution (e.g., department chairs, faculty administrators, trustees). Phones and in-boxes are quickly overwhelmed, and faculty and staff members must spend time and energy fielding the messages. Many of these messages include threats to pull funding but may also include overt or implicit threats of harm or violence to the faculty member, the institution, or students.

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