University of North Georgia professor Joshua Cuevas never expected to receive much media attention when he chose to publish a firsthand account of his experience being cyberbullied in an otherwise obscure academic journal.
But his story and the problem he reports now have National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting Service and print and online news outlets calling.
“I figured that it would be read by a small circle of academics,” Cuevas told The Times on Monday about his article published by the American Association of University Professors last week. “I did not expect this.”
In his story, Cuevas noted a “palpable hostility” toward liberal arts education from internet “trolls” posting inflammatory content and hate-filled rhetoric.
“Much of what was posted initially revolved around my Hispanic origins,” Cuevas, who is an associate professor and educational psychologist, wrote. “As a liberal-leaning Hispanic professor, I was a perfect target for white supremacists.”
What started as typical political debate on social media around the time of the 2016 election turned to harassment from anonymous internet users, he added.
“I want to get the facts out there, first,” he told The Times. “It’s a small amount of people.”
But they can speak loudly.
The anonymous messages accusing him of anti-Semitic rhetoric were circulated to faculty members and colleagues, while social media accounts spread the false information.
Cuevas said he began inspecting the accounts, finding some to be “dummy,” or multiple profiles used by a single person.
Tracking their search histories on his own webpage allowed Cuevas to document the fraudulent claims made against him.
Cuevas said he met with university administrators and shared this information.
Cuevas does confess some blame on behalf of college educators in the AAUP article, stating, “The elitism that some in the profession may project when trying to convince others that we are ‘right’ exacerbates the friction, and those of us in higher education increasingly find ourselves the target of hostilities.”
Cuevas is already learning the lesson of pushing back.
“I would hope it is less about me,” he said, adding that he wants to give voice to others who have been similarly harassed.
In fact, Cuevas said, he has received emails from more than 60 professors from all over the world telling stories of their own.
But still he waits for a backlash.
“The story is widening,” he said. “I’m expecting another wave of harassment to come, at some point. I don’t know how soon that’ll be or when that’ll be.”