Doxxing: the virtual lynch mob

Examining the recent media coverage of of Lola Olufemi, Adrianna Hunt questions why black student activists are often doxxed in the national press

Adrianna Hunt

Facebook: FLY Cambridge

On my bedside table lies a copy of James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain. It’s a book that I’ve renewed three times already since coming to Cambridge, despite it only being 260 pages long. As has become evident to me, reading for leisure here is a rare pleasure. Yet, I feel it’s important to have this book in my room, a room where as an English student books are strewn everywhere. Books which, predominantly, are written by white men.

When I first heard about the ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ campaign, I was overjoyed. Despite only being at Cambridge for a month, it has quickly become apparent that this is an extremely white space; a real culture shock for me as a biracial person from a very diverse city. For those unaware of the aims of the campaign (or those overwhelmed by the conflicting media coverage), the aim is, simply put, to include more post-colonial writers on the extremely unrepresentative English Tripos, with the hope of facilitating a shift in other subjects as well. Simple enough, right?

Wrong.

The campaign has created a media furore, with newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail sending what can only be described as a virtual lynch mob after CUSU’s Woman’s Officer, Lola Olufemi. Images of Olufemi were plastered across the front page of The Telegraph accompanied by the incendiary headline: ‘Student forces Cambridge to drop white authors’. As Olufemi highlighted in her response, the article was ‘riddled with factual inaccuracies’, for which the newspaper has since issued a rather disingenuous apology.  The aim of the campaign is not to purge the curriculum of all white authors, but rather to expand the canon to include the wealth of post-colonial literature that it is currently bereft of. This blatant misreporting of the campaign and targeting of Olufemi is an example of ‘doxxing’, which can be defined as the practice of researching and publishing private or identifiable information (especially personally identifiable information) about an individual or organisation.

Twitter: @Nicholas Guyatt

Doxxing has become the go-to tool of a passive-aggressive media who essentially co-opt trolls into doing their dirty work for them, encouraging them to send the words that are unprintable in their papers. Another example of this occurred over the summer, when controversial tweets posted by Jason Osamede Okundaye, president of the Cambridge BME campaign, were taken out of context with regards to the death of Rashan Charles and the Dalston Riots of July. More recently, the conflict between Esme Allman and Robbie Travers at Edinburgh University was seized upon by the media.

Every time an incident like this occurs, there is always an insidious underlying message: as people of colour we should be grateful to even be allowed into these hallowed institutions. Our places feel conditional even after we have started, the conditions being that we sit down and shut up - lest we wish to find ourselves in a media storm. This insidious sentiment was epitomised in an article published about Diane Abbott by the Daily Mail earlier this year entitled: ‘The first black female MP, Diane Abbott, enjoyed the privileges of grammar school and Cambridge. So why does she disdain Britain?’.

"Every time an incident like this occurs, there is always an insidious underlying message: as people of colour we should be grateful to even be allowed into these hallowed institutions"

Why indeed does Diane Abbott seemingly ‘disdain’ a country which has relentlessly subjected her to institutional racism? This abuse culminated in her receiving 45.14% of abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run up to the 2017 general election. Rather tellingly, the Mail chose to use an image of Olufemi and Abbott in their report on the ‘Decolonising campaign’; they know the vitriol that the right feel towards this black female MP who has also refused to accept systemic racism and has thrived off of her own merit. There remains a prevailing view that as people of colour, we should be indebted to a system that has consistently marginalised us, as David Lammy’s recent commission into Oxbridge is evidence of.

Doxxing is also deployed to detract from the issues at hand. The Right claim to despise ‘identity politics’ yet they cannot seem to extricate our personal identities from the causes that we champion. As Olufemi pointed out in her interview on BBC’s Woman’s Hour, the negative press coverage has not only overshadowed the ‘Decolonising’ campaign but also the ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign, which aims to tackle the issue of sexual misconduct within the university, a cause that could not be more topical. This mirrors the decision to publish Okundaye’s tweets in order to deflect attention from the issue of police brutality. It seems that people of colour attempting to question the system are vilified in the same manner as those who physically assault their boyfriends and those who choose to burn money in front of the homeless. 


READ MORE

Mountain View

Decolonising the English syllabus will only make it richer

Enoch Powell remarked in his now infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech that: ‘In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.’ Despite the claims that we live in a ‘post-racial society’, this fear still seems to be a prominent one amongst a certain generation of Britons. After all, why is the right so incensed when a person of colour dares to question the norm and attempt to enact reform?

Newsflash: we are not trying to gain the ‘whip hand’ but rather ensure that students have access to all aspects of their subjects. Decolonising curricula will only enhance the quality of education that every single student receives. After all, I would not be at this university without the works of Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Haruki Murakami and the wealth of post-colonial writers who ignited my love of English. My love of these writers does not conflict with my penchant for the poetry of Donne or Pope, or with the literary canon in general. If they can exist side-by-side for me, then surely they can coexist on our curricula