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In CT and beyond, student protesters ask media for anonymity amid doxxing concerns

A protestor at the University of Connecticut expresses his desire to not be photographed during a rally on campus calling for the university to divest from companies they say are playing a role in the Israel-Hamas war.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
A protestor at the University of Connecticut expresses his desire to not be photographed during a rally on campus calling for the university to divest from companies they say are playing a role in the Israel-Hamas war.

Students at several colleges and universities across Connecticut are now doing what will guarantee getting a TV news camera in their face: protesting on campus to support Palestinians. But many are not willing to speak on the record using their full names — or speak to the media altogether.

There’s a reason for that, according to Chisato Kimura, a Yale Law School student.

“There were people who tried to make it so that I would no longer receive my scholarship,” Kimura said. “There were messages like you deserve to die, those kinds of different things.”

Kimura spoke out in the weeks after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Israel then retaliated by bombing and invading Gaza.

Kimura says her information was leaked outside campus and she faced harassment. She said other students are wary of talking on the record with reporters using their full names for several reasons, from worries over harassment to distrust of the media.

This also complicates matters, since some journalists have not cultivated deep ties with student sources.

Those practices have proven to be difficult for many journalists who traditionally quote sources on the record using their full name and only grant anonymity under rare special circumstances to protect a source or out of other ethical concerns.

Kimura said speaking out about the war resulted in her being doxxed, which is when personal information about someone is maliciously published online as an act of revenge.

She said despite her experiences, she is now more willing to speak to the media partly because her information is already out there. But she understands why other students aren’t as willing to speak openly to the media, referring to attacks on social media towards pro-Palestinian protesters.

“I completely understand. It's terrifying,” Kimura said. “ I've seen so many Twitter threads, where people's faces do get posted on different protests.”

Many protesters have instead referred journalists to designated spokespeople who often do speak on the record on the behalf of protesting students.

The distrust is also partly fueled by eroding trust in civic institutions, according to Jonathan Wharton, a political science professor at Southern Connecticut State University.

“When I see in the classroom so often, especially in the last year or two, during COVID, is this distrust of institutions, not just the media, but government, military, financial institutions, even higher education institutions,” Wharton said.

But other students are less willing to engage with the media because of perceived or real biases.

Farhan Memon, the chair of the Connecticut Chapter for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), says many students who are Muslim and Arab are less willing to talk on the record due to what he said is biased and inaccurate reporting about protester aims and motivations.

Some of that is fueled by the lack of diversity in media, leading to misunderstandings and biases against Muslim and Arab Americans. But there are practical considerations at play.

Designated spokespeople are there to ensure messaging discipline, he said.

“They're, in effect, shielding the participants who may not be as readily capable or able to talk about what they really want to talk about,” Memon said.

Yet other students at different schools, such as Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), are critical of pro-Palestinian protesters who, he said, don’t stand behind their convictions.

Stefano Guerra is the president of the College Republicans group at SCSU and says members have faced harassment.

However, Guerra listed specific examples of a classmate being attacked on social media and lost friendships.

Pro-Palestinian students have faced death threats, legal action, doxxing and are at risk of hurting their career prospects.

Guerra said they also distrust the media, but according to him, the media is a tool to get their message out, as alienating as it can be in heavily Democratic Connecticut.

“We like to talk to the media because we feel as if we have the need to justify what we believe in,” Guerra said.

Kimura is also willing to talk to the media, partly because she has less to lose, but also, because she said her privilege as a student at an Ivy League school affords her the ability to speak out on an ongoing war where thousands of civilians have been killed — and which she says, her university’s ongoing support for Israel makes it complicit.

“I would be speaking out regardless, because what's happening in Gaza is completely atrocious,” Kimura said.