FAYETTEVILLE -- Three days after a case of mistaken identity led to a stream of harassment and the publication of his home address, Kyle Quinn said he's looking forward to getting back to teaching and research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Quinn, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, said he'll teach his course on biomedical imaging with a plan to discuss the events of the past few days, while university spokesman Steve Voorhies said extra security will be in place when the class begins next week.
The harassment began after online commentators confused him with a man in an "Arkansas Engineering" shirt photographed Friday night at a Charlottesville, Va., rally on the University of Virginia campus where torch-bearing demonstrators shouted slogans like, "Jew will not replace us."
Some social media posts paired a photograph of Quinn, an image culled from the UA website, with the image taken Friday, wrongly concluding that they pictured the same person.
The images sparked a strong response Saturday on social media as violent skirmishes took place throughout the day in Charlottesville.
Heather Heyer, 32, was killed Saturday when a car drove into a crowd of counterprotesters as a rally attended by white supremacists was winding down. Police arrested a 20-year-old rallygoer on second-degree murder and other charges.
"Saturday evening is when we noticed that our address was posted online, " Quinn, 36, said.
He and his wife received word from a UA official earlier that day saying his name had surfaced in connection with the rally, despite the fact that the couple were some 1,100 miles away and had spent Friday evening in Bentonville at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
"I thought it was ridiculous and I was shocked, but I didn't really understand what was about to happen and the kind of emails and phone calls and posting online that I was about to get," Quinn said.
Dozens of emails, tweets and phone calls poured in from angry strangers. A petition posted on Change.org called for Quinn's resignation. It's since been taken down.
"I checked my messages once, and then I knew I didn't want to check my messages anymore," Quinn said.
The threats he was getting, while not explicitly violent, were certainly full of vitriol.
"No one said, 'I'm going to kill you,' but basically, 'I hope you choke on your white racism,' something along those lines," Quinn said.
Seeing their home address posted led the couple to leave their home to stay with family members.
"Of all the things that we'd gotten, that was the most concerning," Quinn said.
Amy Schlesing, UA's director of strategic communications, said in a phone interview Tuesday that once the university verified Quinn did not attend the rally, it started to reinforce the same, clear correction. The university flagged the misinformation and reported any threatening messages.
Still, news gathers steam on social media within seconds and is almost "impossible to stop," she said. The university was inundated with emails filled with unprintable curses.
Quinn said UA's response "certainly helped to manage things," as did his own use of social media. An account he created to highlight the laboratory work of students became another line of defense, as both UA and Quinn repeated that he was not at the rally.
By Tuesday afternoon, the hateful messages had "decreased a bit," Quinn said, replaced with messages from reporters.
As he prepares to teach a course on biomedical data and image analysis, Quinn said he expects his experience will come up in class.
"I'm hopeful that a majority of the students are aware of what's going on," Quinn said. But the nature of the mistake, involving online commenters jumping to the wrong conclusion based on photographic evidence, makes for a relevant discussion, Quinn said.
"The class is all about developing computational methods to compare images and evaluate images in a completely objective fashion," Quinn said, noting that the case of mistaken identity highlights "the inherent subjectivity" when people try to recognize faces.
"The first day of class, it's natural to bring that up as an example," Quinn said.
Information for this article was contributed by Daniel Victor of The New York Times.
Metro on 08/16/2017
Print Headline: Case of mistaken ID to be UA lesson