Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
columbia university students at a pro-palestine protest
columbia university students at a pro-palestine protest
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Culture > News

We Spoke To A College Student Who Ended Up On A “Doxxing Truck” For Her Activism

Updated Published

In October, the names and photos of students connected to Palestinian solidarity statements were displayed on “doxxing trucks” at Harvard University and Columbia University’s campuses, as part of an intense debate on U.S. college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war. The trucks sparked criticism, even from groups who did not agree with the content of the statements that condemned Israel. 

Public denunciation has led to harassment of student activists. This is on top of the surge in both antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents on college campuses in recent weeks. Some of the public shaming of students has been referred to as “doxxing.” Under the formal definition, doxxing occurs when someone’s personal information that wouldn’t ordinarily be publicly known is publicly exposed without consent. This often happens online, rendering doxxed people vulnerable to abuse, humiliation, and personal life consequences. 

The trucks, funded by a conservative watchdog organization called Accuracy in Media, called members of student groups that signed Palestine solidarity statements “leading antisemites.” At Harvard, a truck arrived on campus on Oct. 11 after 34 student groups cosigned a letter with the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) claiming Israel is “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” The Oct. 8 letter said, “Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum. For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison.” The PSC posted a follow-up statement to Instagram on Oct. 11, saying the original letter was meant to bring awareness to the “root cause of all the violence unfolding.” Harvard’s Jewish Center, Harvard Hillel, condemned the statement, saying it “falsely blames Israel for Hamas’ vicious and cruel attacks on Israeli civilians.” Harvard Hillel also publicly denounced doxxing and “any attempts to threaten and intimidate co-signatories.” 

“The doxxing first began by seeing my name circulate on various online lists, including lists that call themselves college ‘terror lists,’” Maya*, a Harvard undergraduate affiliated with a student group who signed the pro-Palestine statement, tells Her Campus. “After the initial list, I personally ended up on Canary Mission, [and with] my face splattered all over the truck.” The Canary Mission, an organization that claims to expose antisemitism on college campuses, posted links to Maya’s social media accounts. 

The Canary Mission has been publishing students’ social media since 2015. Supporters laud the Canary Mission for exposing antisemitism, while groups like Jewish Voice for Peace condemn the Canary Mission for being a “cyber-bullying operation” in which “volunteers and staff scour the social media accounts of activists for statements supporting Palestinian rights, which they then use to levy false and misleading accusations that the activists ‘support terrorists’ or ‘are inciting Jew-hatred’ on campuses.” Her Campus reached out to the Canary Mission for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication. 

Some students exposed by the Canary Mission on Twitter in past years reported facing death threats, verbal abuse, and trouble in the job search. Canary Mission led to the creation of an opposing website in 2018 called Against Canary Mission, which positively profiles blacklisted Palestinian rights advocates to help them counter negative effects on their professional lives. 

Maya, who is Arab and Muslim, became increasingly worried about her and her family’s physical safety following the publication of her information. “There is a very real concern that someone will see [the truck’s] defamatory language, believe what it says on the truck — and some of the accusations of me being a terrorist — and choose to resort to violence,” she says.

“I felt like I couldn’t walk to my classes alone, or I couldn’t go to the dining hall without being really, really cognizant of every little look that I got,” she continues. Maya says that some people who would normally say hello to her on campus now don’t acknowledge her. When she speaks privately with those students, they say they’re worried they might also get exposed on the truck if they associate with her. “I think that should be terrifying for all of us, not just supporters of Palestine, but supporters of free speech and student activism on a range of issues,” Maya says. 

columbia university students at a pro-palestine protest
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The truck and websites have taken a toll on her mental health. “On top of being a student, and having to … contend with and grieve the sheer loss of life that we’ve seen in Gaza over the past couple of weeks, I’ve also had to deal with so much of this on-campus stuff.” Maya has taken an active role finding ways to support her community, and fill the gaps she believes Harvard has left supporting affected students, some of whom also have family in Gaza. 

On Oct. 25, The Harvard Crimson announced Harvard was introducing a task force to aid doxxed and harassed students. Harvard had previously created resource lists for those affected. A Harvard communications team member tells Her Campus, “Harvard has been in direct touch with students who have received online threats or who have been doxxed by multiple organizations. Members of our staff have reached out directly to students and have offered individualized attention.” 

In a statement to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard College Dean Rekesh Khurana called attacks against students “deplorable and despicable.” He also spoke out against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. Harvard president Claudine Gay also condemned hate of any group based on faith in a statement on Oct. 12. 

Maya says, “The university offered resources weeks after students needed them.” In the immediate aftermath of the trucks, students had to find resources themselves “by reaching out to alumni, various mentors, supportive faculty,” and also “create those resources for themselves.” 

“The university has absolutely refused to help take down websites that are contributing to ongoing doxxing,” Maya continues. USA Today reported on Oct. 12 that up to four websites had posted lists of students’ contact information. 

columbia university students at a pro-israel protest
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Maya says the first students featured on the truck were “Black, visibly Muslim, and undocumented” students, as opposed to some of the more vocal pro-Palestine organizers the truck could have started with. “I think that speaks to the fact that this entire campaign has been incredibly xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic,” Maya says. 

Her Campus reached out to president of Accuracy in Media, Adam Guillette, for comment on Maya’s claims. Guillette accompanied the truck on Harvard’s campus. “We took names that were published in the Harvard Crimson,” Guillette says. “If it’s OK for the Harvard Crimson to publish their names, I think it’s OK for us to do the same.” 

“We wouldn’t have any way of knowing who’s undocumented,” Guillette continues. “We target any organization that signs an antisemitic proclamation.” 

At Columbia, another truck arrived on campus on Oct. 25. A nameless Jewish student group demonstrated against it by covering the truck’s screens “to make it clear that doxxing is not in our name.” Many wore masks to protect their identities. One Columbia student is suing Accuracy in Media for alleged defamation and causing emotional distress. The lawsuit alleges Accuracy in Media didn’t obtain written consent for the use of the student’s picture and name, which is prohibited under New York Civil Rights Law. According to the Columbia Spectator, the student was not a leader of an organization that signed Columbia’s open student letter supporting Palestine at the time. 

The trucks, which displayed names and pictures, did not post student information that wasn’t publicly available. This action does not meet the formal definition of doxxing specified by the Social Media Victims Law Center. Guillette says, “Our organization would never dox anyone. We think … it’s morally outrageous.” 

The Columbia chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine also criticized Columbia for not properly acknowledging the genocide in Gaza or supporting doxxed students in the Columbia Spectator on Oct. 17. Columbia’s president Minouche Shafik condemned student doxxing and violence in both Israel and Gaza on Oct. 18. In early November, Columbia also introduced a resource group for students displayed on the truck, and a task force on antisemitism to protect Jewish students facing threats. Columbia has since announced it would ban the Columbia chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Jewish Voice for Peace for the fall semester, due to violation of university policy. 

The First Amendment protects affected students against harassment, but not opinion. “We live in a country where we say you’re allowed to criticize people, and you’re allowed to criticize people in a really harsh and mean and unfair and cruel way,” says Brian L. Frye, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who teaches classes on intellectual property and First Amendment rights.

“At the end of the day, harassment is prohibited, but speech isn’t,” Frye says about students who have been harassed following their appearances on websites like the Canary Mission. Frye says there’s a line between harassment and speech, but “speech can feel harmful to people, and so how do we square that relationship?” 

Frye says the issue comes down to First Amendment rights on both sides. “I think the real problem that’s coming to the fore here is that generally private people are engaging in public discourse, and then having people talk about them in ways they don’t like, publicly.” Frye says there isn’t any legal resolution to that issue. 

Frye says it is defamatory to move beyond using an opinion to label someone, and falsely claim that someone did or said an alleged action or thing. Further, issuing death threats and harassing people are not protected under the law. “If someone’s making a death threat, or if someone’s saying ‘I’m going to do this really bad thing to you,’ that can be criminal,” Frye says. “That can be harassment. That’s not an opinion.” 

To protect against harassment, Frye says he’s seen activists wear masks. UC Berkeley’s Office of Ethics also recommends taking digital security measures to protect yourself from doxxing, such as keeping social media accounts private, using a VPN, and creating strong passwords. 

“If you want to engage in the speech, you have to also understand that it might come with consequences,” Frye continues. “When you engage in this kind of public-facing speech or activity, people are allowed to talk about it, for better or for worse.” 

Maya says she will continue with her activism despite the current threats. She helped the Palestine Solidarity Committee complete a banner to honor those killed in Gaza. “It gives me a lot of hope to know that people still continue showing up and continue using their voices,” Maya says. “At the end of the day, as students, our voice is the most important thing we have. And if we’re not using it, then what are we doing?” 

Lia Freeman is a Her Campus National Writer for the Career and Life sections. She writes weekly articles along with covering more timely content. She recently graduated from the University of Sheffield in England, where she majored in philosophy, religious studies and ethics. Lia was the opinion editor for her university newspaper and the Deputy Head of News at her university's radio station. She also interned with a humanitarian journalist team called The India Story Agency, where she did social media, background research, and writing for work appearing in the British Medical Journal. Lia has freelanced in news and lifestyle for The Tab, Empoword Journalism, and Liberty Belle Magazine. She also occasionally publishes her own stories on Medium! Lia loves road-tripping and camping with her friends, and pretending she could be a Wimbledon star on the tennis court. Oftentimes you'll find her lost in a book or lost online. She is passionate about covering social issues and education, and hearing women's voices in the media.