When not standing between police and protestors, I research religion, media and politics at Emory University. From this position, I consider the digital carnage of April 25, specifically how pro-Israel digital worlds transformed my indignation against the militarization of campus into a meme of a so-called enraged antisemitic professor intent on harassing Jewish students. When I got home that dreadful day, I already had a hate email with the subject heading “AntiSemite”: “James, I am an Emory Alumni. You are a disgrace to the university and a danger to Jewish students. We will NOT let you endanger the lives of Jewish students at Emory. We will make sure you never work in a classroom there again.”

Amid the recent chaos and confusion, I offer a teachable moment about the dangerous distortions of doxxing. 

Police attempt to create a barrier prohibiting protestors and media from inching closer (Jack Rutherford/News Editor).

Around 10:25 a.m., colleagues and I heard the commotion, rushed to the window and watched police officers forcibly push people back from the University Quadrangle. It was brutal. Sounds of pepper balls cracked like automatic rifles, and clouds of chemical irritants filled the air. Stepping onto the Quad, I watched as the Emory Police Department (EPD), the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia State Patrol body slammed students and faculty, tased a detained man and threatened us with immediate arrest. Confident in our righteous indignation, faculty and students eventually moved to where detainees were being held, chanting “Let them go! Let them go!” Tensions were high, and the police, brutal.

Once those arrested were hauled off, many faculty decided we were obliged to stand up for our students, call out campus militarization and hold our administration accountable. As we walked to Convocation Hall, I grieved the debris on the lawn, the pepper pod marks and the outside agitators wielding guns. This was our Quad. I began removing caution tape that lined the perimeter of the Quad in front of Convocation Hall so faculty could assemble on the grass without blocking the pathways. It was exhilarating, if only a “weapon of the weak” to symbolically reclaim our Quad. 

While removing caution tape, two students pushed cell phones toward my face and peppered me with questions. “Oh f***, I’m gonna get doxxed,” I thought. 

I intentionally and immediately walked away. When one student asked if I was from Emory, I replied that I was a professor. When she insisted the caution tape was to protect the lawn for graduation, I joked that it was OK because tents would be on the Quad during graduation. I saw a lawn fetishized and violence ignored. These students seemed to really need my name, which would be relayed, with the video, to overlapping right-wing, pro-Israel and Zionist individuals or social media teams who would edit the footage and reframe the narrative. I refuse to hide on my campus, so I acquiesced after stating they would just dox me. As I continued to walk away, I said they could counter-protest and suggested they take my courses. The second student continued badgering me as I retreated.

When I finally mustered the energy to check X, formerly known as Twitter, to discover what spurred such vitriol, I was horrified — but not surprised — by re-edited storylines and spliced footage: “Emory professor has antisemitic meltdown,” “The jew haters are getting angry” and “We are witnessing exactly how Hitler came into power. I cannot believe this is happening again! These are people chasing Jews out of public spaces. Literal Nazis.”

This was beyond doxxing. This was an intentional hounding that online producers quickly circulated to mischaracterize my indignation to appeal to and amplify deeply felt narratives about liberal antisemitism. As a scholar of media studies, I was amazed. As a mentor to Jewish students, I was devastated.

They tell you to never read the comments, but please do. I doom-scrolled down the X rabbit hole, finally able to sleep after seeing a comment insisting that, although they disagree with me, I was not aggressive toward students and urged others not to lie.

To help understand, consider three concepts from media studies: re-contextualization, remediation and re-signification. This is not a case of images and audio being taken out of context. This was a deliberate re-contextualization of the mediated subject — myself — to introduce and amplify a different narrative. Second, re-mediation occurs when the original voice and video files get uploaded to Listservs and social media producers become new authors as they clip, edit and re-frame before sending the files back out into cyberspace. 

As media studies scholars Patricia Spyer and Mary Steedly argue, “Unmoored from their sites of production, mobile images … are variously inflected, refracted, reframed, remixed, digitally enhanced, cropped, hijacked, and amplified and their effects intensified or muted.” These new images and narratives bombard online cleavages with their own algorithmic prejudices. 

Third, re-signification refers to the meanings people attribute to these re-contextualized and re-mediated images. With the right shift in framing, moral outrage at police brutality can be made to look like antisemitism. The real danger to our public discourse is that these images lie.

I decry the Hamas attacks and the rise in antisemitism in the United States. As scholars of religion across the United States have admonished, though, we can both decry and speak out against the weaponization of antisemitism. We can humanize Palestinians without dehumanizing Jews.

My story is not the first or worst doxxing on campus. According to a Title VI complaint currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, an alumnus allegedly doxxed members of Students for Justice in Palestine as “terrorist affiliated” and urged everyone to “Name them, shame them, and don’t hire them.” 

I do not wish to name or shame. The students circulating images into cyberspace are not always the ones who edit video and reframe narratives; these students are also learning to be activists in accordance with their convictions, much like protestors whose speech I would not use — for instance, comparing Black officers to the Ku Klux Klan while I stand between them and police.

Ironically, in another online world far from the present hullabaloo, it was actually an interview I gave after the initial violence that really went viral with over 1119,000 as of May 20, 2024. The hate emails I’ve received pale in comparison to notes from scholars and graduate students from Southeast Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America, most without the affordances of tenure and whiteness, thanking me for speaking up. One may disagree with my perspectives, but at least that remediation was unvarnished, true to its original context.

Judging from social media, I am either an abhorrent antagonist or principled protagonist. Perhaps instead of turning to social media to slander and praise, we come out of our media cocoons and sincerely tune in to each other. 

James Hoesterey is an associate professor of religious studies.

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