You’ve heard this story before: a guy makes a political statement on social media, and the people who disagree are so incensed that they try to get him fired from his job over it. It starts with doxing (broadcasting his personal information online) and ends with calls to his employer. Maybe he gets fired, maybe he doesn’t. A cautionary tale for the Internet Age. By now it’s acquired the patina of urban legend: Watch what you say or they’ll dox you. It happens, you know.
It does happen. It happened to my friend R.M. Huffman. I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Huffman. He’s a practicing anesthesiologist, a skilled writer, an illustrator, a husband, and the father of small children. In addition to writing the Sweet Tooth horror-comedy series, he’s also written the fantasy novels Leviathan and Fallen, was kind enough to write the foreword to Appalling Stories: 13 Tales of Social Injustice, and wrote the short story Never Again for the Appalling Stories 2 anthology. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll remind readers that I’m the managing editor of the Appalling Stories series.)
He’s also a Christian conservative, and he’s on Twitter. Not long after the 2019 State of the Union Address, while the abortion debate was still fresh in everyone’s minds thanks to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam publicly approving of the murder of newborn infants and New York State permitting the abortion of an infant up to the day of delivery, Huffman posted this:
We could make the claim that it’s a reasonable statement: after all, sex makes babies, generally. But to a certain segment of the population, it’s inflammatory. In a brief interview, I asked Huffman why he posted the tweet and tagged the Democrat politicians:
The political milieu at the moment still involved fallout from Governors Cuomo and Northam publicly supporting legal infanticide, which is exactly what “late-term abortion” actually is. The abortion question is entirely dependent on axioms: is a fetus a living, autonomous human, or is it simply tissue in a woman’s body? That being so, I thought that tweeting out the obvious truism that sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy, albeit with a rhetorical flourish intended to catch people’s attention, and tagging some women whose voices would resonate with the target cohort might lead to a few pre-pregnancy decisions that would obviate the need to consider abortion whatsoever. In other words, I wanted girls to be reminded that “pro-choice” ought to mean “I can choose whether or not to have sex, and if I’m not also ready to carry a child, my choice needs to be ‘no.'” That’s all.
The tweet occasioned the expected anger and invective, which ran the gamut from standard name-calling to informing him, a father of four, that he’ll never get laid. Par for the course, and nothing to get exercised about. All you have to do is flip a switch and you’ll never see it. And if you do see it, who cares? The world’s full of angry people who say things on the internet that they’d never dare utter outside of it.
Not long after the tweet got a lot of heat from progressive Twitter, someone with the pseudonym Jimbob bigguns (sic), without buying or reading Huffman’s novel Fallen, gave it a one-star review on Amazon. (You’ll note that Jimbob’s done this to another conservative author, too.) It happens. It’s nasty, but it happens. You can’t keep people from doing that, and Amazon’s too busy to look at every single review for accuracy or political bias. Just about every conservative author’s dealt with that kind of thing. It’s what progressives on social media do to writers.
Then things got really ugly. At the time, his Twitter bio mentioned that he’s a practicing anesthesiologist.
Dr. Kat got the ball rolling with this tweet:
Not satisfied with simply linking to Huffman’s personal information, she added this statement: “It’d be funny if his ratings blew up with a sh*t ton of 1 *’s from his negative tweets.” Now Dr. Kat is coyly suggesting that her followers try to destroy his professional rating over words he posted on the internet. (Funny how she won’t spell out the word “shit,” but doesn’t scruple to attack him professionally.) They’re not his patients. They’ve never interacted with him on a professional level. Dr. Kat has never worked with him. And yet they’re trying to affect how he makes a living. This is not just malicious, but fraudulent.
So it’s bad, but not terribly damaging. Do most people check those ratings before allowing Huffman to treat them? Hard to tell. But this is where Dr. Kat’s buddies signal their intent to go for the real prize: getting him canned. The Launch Journals says, “Would be kinda great if this hill he’s choosing to die on also kills his current employment situation.” And Jaynie Campbell is only too happy to oblige by posting a list of Huffman’s hospital privileges and telling people to report him to the Texas Board of Medicine. Because of what he said on Twitter. Not because of his professional conduct as a physician. Not because of how he practices medicine. But because he said something she didn’t like.
When Jaynie Campbell gets called out for posting this information with the intent to get him fired, her response is, “It’s all PUBLIC information.” As though posting it on Twitter and encouraging people to destroy his career is perfectly reasonable because his information is readily available.
Last Stand in Oregon couldn’t wait to tell the world that he’d reported Dr. Huffman for professional misconduct over words on the internet. Huffman never treated him.
MIMI Pro wasn’t satisfied: “Make copies of his Facebook page and Twitter account.”
This encouragement to contact Huffman’s employers continued for some time, including suggestions that Huffman might rape an unconscious patient. Even though he never said anything of the kind. Even though none of them have seen him in a professional capacity.
Me: When did you first learn that people actually did contact your employer?
Huffman: As soon as I saw the first tweet that contained (inaccurate) hospital names and contact information, I knew they would. Anonymous leftist fascists aren’t bluffing; they really do want to ruin your life. To answer the question, though: the day after, when the CEO of an anesthesia group that mine occasionally associates with called me and told me that several hospitals had been asking him about the tweet. That’s when, as a personal favor to him and at his request, I deleted it.
What’s remarkable about the mindset of the people trying to put Huffman out of work over his politics is that they feel perfectly justified in doing so. Donna Jergentz, exulting in her cohorts’ efforts, said, “It’s just starting. I’ve heard of people doing stupid things online – throwing a medical career away for Politics? What a fool.” Nobody threw anything away. A mob is comprised of individuals, and individuals perform individual actions, including the attempt to destroy a man’s medical career. Over his Politics (sic).
Tina Desiree Berg simply saw the attempt to put Huffman out of work as the consequence of his problematic opinions. If you have the wrong thoughts and have the temerity to express those wrong thoughts, you shouldn’t be able to make a living.
The best justification for all of this came from A Cranky Yankee, whose magnum opus must be read to be believed:
Me: How has this affected your career?
Huffman: It hasn’t, because I scrubbed my Twitter feed entirely. A hospital administration that was a recipient of the doxxed information looked at my timeline and decided that my Christian, conservative beliefs about human sexuality were discriminatory to the “LGBTQ community” and thus violated hospital bylaws. I was given the choice to delete my account or face disciplinary action. Reluctantly, and with much counsel, I simply deleted my Twitter history instead of fighting a battle that I’d win, but would still hurt me professionally. My wife didn’t like me spending time on there anyway.
You’ll notice that the majority of the people trying to get Huffman fired use anonymous accounts. It’s a good strategy, because it shields them from similar attack. The anonymity makes them feel safe to say and do anything they want. Those few who have gainful employment and, presumably, something to lose, are protecting themselves with that anonymity.
The difference between social media and a firearm is that you don’t need a background check to use social media. Like a firearm, it’s a tool. It’s often very destructive in the wrong hands, and most of the time you only hear about how terrible it can be after someone’s been hurt by it. But it’s not intrinsically evil. Few things are. You just have to use it properly:
- Never talk about politics on social media, even with people you agree with.
- You’ve ignored 1., or you’re planning to. Fine. Never use your real name, use your real photo, or make references to your family while you’re on social media.
- Choose an anonymous handle, one that you haven’t used elsewhere. Anonymity is key.
- Don’t disclose any personal information on social media.
- Don’t take anything other people say on social media seriously.
- Don’t take what you say on social media seriously.
- Use social media for 5 minutes a day, at most. This is not a joke.
Like it or not, there are many, many people out there who are angry, hostile, and petty enough to put you out of work if they take a mind to. We can explore what makes them tick another time, but suffice it to say that there’s more than enough ugliness out there to make you realize that even if you’re not at war with them, they’re at war with you. Act accordingly.
Me: What are you doing differently RE: online behavior now, versus before this foofaraw?
Huffman: From now on, the little I tweet will be strictly related to art and writing projects, which was the intended purpose of my having a Twitter account in the first place. My political efforts will be focused on local and state politics, where real battles can be won; Twitter victories are meaningless, but an online horde of angry liberals upset because you told them that sex can make babies can cause real-life damage. It just isn’t worth it.
A mature person learns from his own experience. A smart person learns from someone else’s experience. Despite my deeply-held opinions about politics, the culture war, and similar subjects, I’m finding that expressing these opinions on social media contributes more to noise than signal. I just don’t have anything original to say on these topics; at least, not that can be communicated in 280 characters or less. Combined with the knowledge that the internet is filled with undiagnosed psychopaths who are perfectly happy to destroy your life simply because you express an opinion that differs from theirs, and it makes using social media to say anything except for the blandest of things a fool’s game. The heckler’s veto works. Their endgame is to silence all opinion different from their own.
Let the psychopaths have Twitter. They own it, they run it, they populate it.