Keep up with all the chapters at the book page of Facing Hate: Overcoming Social Smearing, Recovering Relationships, and Rebuilding Your Reputation.
This may just be the most painful yet most profitable journey of my life. Overcoming a social smear is a mountain to move, a volcano that seems to be erupting over and over again throughout our world today. This memoir is meant to vindicate me, absolutely, but the teacher in me won’t allow for mere self-reflection. There has to be a larger picture, an others-focused side to all of this. So I’m laying bare my soul for the many more — you, perhaps — who have suffered similar pain, the many others who will in the future certainly fall victim to the riots of social smearing. To be totally honest, more than once I considered spiking this story altogether. After all, don’t I have my reputation to uphold? I’m currently a respected charter school teacher with a publishing company on the side; both are essential parts of paying the Jeub bills. Wendy and I have wonderful relationships with our children — half now adults and many of them happily married — and we can’t get enough of our growing brood of grandbabies (our 11th due soon). We have our daily struggles, but nothing close to the earthshaking public shaming that we have already withstood. Why kick the hornet’s nest? Perhaps silence is the better, more civil option.
Jesus himself was famously silent when he faced Pilate in the days leading up to his crucifixion, but it would do us all well to remember that he had already said all that needed to be said. Today I am convinced that not printing these words, this story, would be surrender to the mob of hate, standing down to their intimidation and shame-based lies, never bringing resolution to this sad story. There is a fight to be had, you and I, with the rogue keyboard assassins who stand always at the ready, posting unfounded claims about us online. The mob is our common enemy, our new normal. They may be as close to you as a daughter, or perhaps a relative, coworker, neighbor, a mentor — perhaps even a stranger. And I’ll bet that their accusations are not totally false, just truthful enough to intimidate you into a silent shell. Whatever is posted — no matter how untrue or fallacious — the internet is “forever,” so the online claims will simmer to the top again, usually at the worst of times. You know this will happen — eventually. And the mob knows you know.
Though this may be our “new normal,” we can exercise more control over its narrative than we think at first. There will be those around you who appear unsupportive, who doubt your reactions, and perhaps even sympathize with your smearers. Don’t give them the power to write your story, to define who you are, or to manipulate your reputation or character. It’s easy to get angry, to see them as spineless, perhaps as Judas priests willing to trade the good fight for a pocket of comfort. Hold judgment for a moment to give a curious look at the heart of their actions: fear.
Fear is the chemical weapon of the mob, and social smearing is its bombshell. Many of us respond in fear, rendering us inactive, burying the good that we have to share and instead pushing us into dysfunctional corners of shame. The mob relishes this fear in you, turning the dagger to accelerate the pain. It is the technique of dastardly dictators, of the most torturous interrogators. The mob’s weapon of choice is used with extreme prejudice on those they judge deserving, and we think we have no other choice but to submit and be “cancelled.” In today’s media world, our fear allows the mob’s hatred to win. Those of us who attempt to champion love in the world lay victim under its onslaught. As much as I would hope to think social smearing is a “paper dragon” — a weak and petty attempt to silence good people like me and my family — the dragon so very often wins the day. And love ultimately loses.
This issue of fear is familiar to me. Wendy and my story of bringing more-than-usual children into this world and our life had its moments of trepidation. We wrote about this in one of our earlier books Love Another Child:
Imagine “fear” as an animal. It is a snake. Its sole purpose is to creep into your life and cripple you. While you may desire to have faith that moves mountains, Fear reminds you of the realities, the crumbling world out there, the uncertainty of chance, and especially your personal shortcomings. Anything it takes for you to refuse God’s calling, Fear will use. Fear lies; it is its nature. When people turn their hearts from faith, Fear fills the leadership role, and it cradles those it deceives.
Do you see how fear works? When facing hate — pure, unbridled, unpredictable hate that rumbles through social media and online road rage — we think cowering will turn the blow of the abuser. But facing hate with fear never works. Cancelling my story — any story — for fear of another blow from the online mob is giving in and allowing the abuse to continue. Cancel culture is a culture of abuse, of compromise, of justification for abuse, of abiding in the continuation of abuse.
In light of my greater story, isn’t this ironic? I’ve been accused publicly of heinous abuse, yet here I am the target of a cultural hammer of abuse called social smearing. Perhaps standing down would buy me some time. My family may make it a few more years before another gossip magazine decides to create more clickbait articles; I may make it through another year of teaching before a rogue parent digs up the same ol’ story; I may be able to post a pithy article or two before the online mob whips up another campaign to cancel Chris Jeub. Is there any other escape from the humiliating blows other than standing up and fighting back at its insane rage?
I know this: Letting my story slide would not be safe, it would be surrender. There is a fight to be had, and it is a novel fight that doesn’t fit nicely or neatly into a rational and sane world of dialogue and discussion. The mob is mad. Standing up for our reputations online does not resemble a debate round. (How I wish it did!) It is more like a hostage situation, the mob holding its victim in one hand and the pin of a grenade in the other; dredging up yet another smear to blow up our lives. An appeal to sympathy doesn’t matter to the mad mob, and neither does the truth. Its cultish members are willing and empowered to reign down their hatred and ruin us. We must stand against them.
But how? I will ask yet again.
This new modern phenomenon is constantly changing, which means the answer to my impassioned question must also constantly change. Indeed, how we are to respond is a lifelong study. But against that formidable backdrop I will offer up some unique ideas that have grown from my epic trial. And you won’t be surprised at this point to learn that they also stem from my background in academic debate.
What is debate? I define it as knowing how to “think, speak and persuade.” I coach champions on how to win with these three steps, and I constantly remind them to do so in that order. Think first — know how to think properly before opening your mouth to speak. You will never truly persuade anyone until you are of sound thinking yourself. It is a pedagogy reflective of Jesus’ admonition to “take the plank out of your own eye” before condemning your brother for having a speck in his (Matthew 7:3-5). Those who speak before thinking are loudmouths, and such fools do very little persuading. Thorough analysis with a great amount of patience is required before speaking out online. I look forward to the day when the mob submits to this thinking, but I’m not holding my breath. Even so, the smeared can use it just the same. Would you refrain from throwing a life ring to a drowning man just because you thought the rope might be too short? Sound thinking through the online madness is desperately needed.
In dealing with my social smear, I needed to be grounded in my thinking more so than I ever was required to be as a debate coach. When the mob is waiting on your doorstep ready to pounce on you for the slightest error, you need to become mentally razor sharp. Those near-perfect words I spoke to my daughters, turning the students of my slandering parents to my side, and positioning the local reporter to make me look like a martyr of faith, these were much more than just words. They reflected foundational thoughts and ideas, principles that shaped a proper and persuasive response, helping my cause and my family deal with the injustice of our smear. This thinking helped turn my trauma to triumph.
If you find yourself facing the hateful online mob aiming to destroy your online reputation, you will need to first know how to think. Virtually all of my debate courses begin with some sort of quick lesson in logic. I explain that logic is “the mathematics of thinking.” The logical syllogism looks like an equation: major premise + minor premise = conclusion. Logic is the basis for all thinking, the “logos” of the beginning of the universe, even translated as “the word” in John 1:1, which reads, “In the beginning was the logos.” Why basic logic classes have been largely removed from schools is a wonder. It reminds me of an early chapter from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “‘Logic!’ said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?’” And that question is even more relevant to this century’s educators than it was in the last.
Logic itself can be a complicated subject, but most of us find it easier to recognize the failure to think, and we see it on full display in social media, especially with the mob. We categorize these failures “logical fallacies.” When you train your thinking to recognize logical fallacies, reading your social media feeds can be — at least on an academic level — interesting. Short answers are given for every little debate in the feed, so it is relatively easy to recognize and point out fallacies in thinking. I have found that people who are untrained in the failure of logic are prone to using them in their discussions. They usually grow angry with you for pointing out the fallacies, too, which is too bad. They should instead stop thinking fallaciously. But, alas!
As it is with currency, there is one truth, but multiple counterfeits. Logicians have explained hundreds of fallacies, and the study of these fallacies is incredibly rewarding as it helps you think correctly. When the brutal attacks came at me online, I can honestly say that I probably avoided a mental breakdown because I held onto logic (the Word!) during the years of smearing. Social smearing is devastating, but like strapping on steel armor, the bullets of attacks would bounce off when I cognitively recognized their fallaciousness. It’s a superpower that debaters cultivate as they study logic and its many counterfeits, but it requires training — like a martial art — to recognize the fallacy, replace it with the truth and deflect the projectile-deception that was aimed to kill. Once trained in logic and its fallacies, the knowledge stays with you throughout life, perhaps becoming one of the most useful trainings a young person can go through.
In my experience with social smearing, I have found three fallacies that return over and over again. These were the fallacies that my daughters used against me, that the mob took up to fan the flames of trauma. I wrestled with the loss of my daughters and the humiliation of the smear, but I seldom surrendered to the “substance” of their attacks. Why? Because their words weren’t the truth; they were fallacies. Lies. Let me explain these three fallacies that are consistently used in the world of social smearing. Knowing these — perhaps even studying them and memorizing them — will be like the Bracelets of Submission that keep Wonder Woman in her magnificent state of indestructibility. For you, they will help fend off incoming attacks from the mob.
1. Ad Hominem.
Mentioned earlier, this is Latin for “on the man.” This is the lowest of the low logical fallacy, the ultimate result being name calling and personal attacks. It is utilized to replace logic, to avoid the dilemma or problem altogether. Rather than thinking through the argument and engaging in a healthy dialogue of disagreement between two individuals, label your opponent a jerk (or Nazi, racist, abuser, whatever you want) in an attempt to shut down the debate. It sometimes works, but it shouldn’t for those who understand logical fallacies.
Mob: You abuse your children!
Me: There has never been proof of this, and only proof of its opposite.
Mob: But you’re a patriarchal fundamentalist, so of course you abuse your children.
Whenever someone uses an ad hominem, you should realize you’re dealing with the most elementary of thinkers, maybe even a non-thinker. You can chalk it up as a win without ever giving a response. In the world of debate, you have cornered your opponent and they have resulted to an illogical tantrum. You are now engaged in an argument with a child, and trying to reason with them at this level (saying, “I am not a patriarchal fundamentalist!”) will go nowhere. This can be hard, especially when your name is being dragged through the online sewer, but debating with these people is folly. Ad hominems are childish and cruel, and people who use them should be called out as bullies, unfriended and banned from social groups. Others must do that for you, though. You’ll get nowhere if you push back at them in the middle of your own mess.
2. Straw Man.
This fallacy is a word picture: Envision an attack against a straw man instead of a real one, which is, of course, infinitely easier. You can stab away at that scarecrow all you want; it will not resist you. Here’s how it works online: Your adversary paints a false picture of you or your argument, then proceeds to attack that falsity. Much like the ad hominem above, the mob often attempted to paint a picture of me that was easier to hate (calling me a “patriarchal fundamentalist,” for instance). You will find that the haters online will virtually always straw man their opponent.
As an established writer and blogger, I had years and years of posts and books that the mob sifted through to find some sort of story they could straw man. I talked earlier about an article I wrote years prior to the initial smear that condemned a Denver pastor for arguing that girls should not be educated. When taking my teaching job, a parent took my condemnation out of context and built a straw man that looked like I was the one making this argument. Of course I didn’t. She had thought that by building up a scarecrow Mr. Jeub she could shock other parents and even the greater community, and this was a major analysis of the article in The Gazette. I aptly defused the claim by pointing to its fallacy. From The Gazette: “’I have never advocated for an unequal education of boys and girls,’ [Jeub] said, and he blogged against a pastor who ‘believed such nonsense.’”
Simple, short corrections should be how you answer straw man fallacies. Do not attempt to defend yourself with long, lofty explanations. The mob is not interested in debating or exploring the deeper social ramifications of whatever straw man they’re painting you as. They are attempting to ignore the argument, not engage it. Treat those who are prone to straw manning everything you say as you do those who resort to name-calling ad hominems — unfriend them. They aren’t worth your time.
There are several logical fallacies that attempt to “appeal” to something other than the logic of the conversation. These are the purpose of all logical fallacies: ignore the real conversation and focus on or “appeal” to something else. In an online thread with comments from many people, you will likely find appeals made by contributors who want to appear elevated above everyone else in the discussion for some reason other than the logic of the original claim. It is actually a sign of weakness, a psychological fear that some people tend to have within them, as if being wrong was a moral failure. So, instead of correcting their thinking, they appeal to some other entity to justify their wrongness.
Mob: I read online that you abused your children!
Me: You read it from gossip websites.
Mob: I have a degree in child psychology [an appeal to authority], so I can tell it’s true.
Me: You don’t know me or my children, so you have no authority to judge me.
Mob: Of course it’s true! No one believes you [an appeal to popularity].
Me: No, it’s not. Everyone who knows me personally has defended me.
Mob: They’re probably just as ignorant as you [an appeal to probability and ignorance, as well as an ad hominem attack against my friends].
Me: You don’t know my friends, either.
Mob: I’m being triggered by your arguments [an appeal to emotion]. Leave me alone!
Me: You attacked me. I’m merely defending myself.
Mob: You’re a debate coach, just manipulating this debate [an appeal to motive, and ironically an appeal to my authority].
Me: You’re right, I am a debate coach, but not an abuser.
Mob: You’re sure abusing me! [An appeal to ridicule.]
These are all established appeals that people often make in social smears, as well as outside smears. I used to engage people online, and the exchange I crafted above is fairly representative of how I would debate. But as you can see, it too results in folly. This online mobster is clearly not going to deny her faulty premise (that of me being an abuser) and accept the honest truth that her conclusion is false.
All of these logical fallacies do the same thing: avoid the truth by diverting the debate. The ad hominem, the straw man and the numerous appeals to anything other than the truth are all meant to lead you off the trail of discovery and into worthless weeds of nonsense (which is the actual image of another fallacy, the “red herring”; a fake fish used to lead you away from the trail of truth). To some, remember, “the truth doesn’t matter,” and this defaults to the fallacious thinking you see in Facebook groups, viral Twitter tweets, and other social media debates. You can see why I consider most of the online “debates” to be no debate at all, and why I resist engaging them.
To be honest, I resist even offline debates with people who have little appreciation for the truth. Their consistent use of logical fallacies is a red flag I see early in any discussion that warns me of their shallow thinking. This may sound judgmental to call another’s thinking “shallow,” but it is accurate. Discussions with fallacious thinkers never get deeper than their personally held whims. You will seldom find these people conceding anything, changing their views or considering your point of view. In their minds, their truth is the truth. It’s not. The truth is an objective reality and my beliefs must shift to adjust to that reality. When I meet someone who arrogantly thinks the opposite — that their subjective perception is the reality that everyone else should adjust to — I have learned that the best path is the path around them, not through them. In other words, avoid them.
But…! Mr. Jeub, you’re telling me to never submit to the smear by never responding to the smear. Yes, I know this may seem like strange advice coming from a coach who trains champion debaters. And trust me, I feel the tug of temptation when I witness someone online or offline rattling off nonsense with justifications full of logical fallacies. Sometimes I do engage, but never for the purpose of persuading my apparent opponent. I will only engage when the opposition (the fallacious thinker) is not the person I’m trying to persuade, when an audience is watching the exchange and I want them to come to the truth. Debates are not exchanges between two people to persuade each other. This is a novice understanding of academic debate. Instead, a debate is an exchange between two people (or teams) to persuade an audience. Presidential candidates, for instance, aren’t out to persuade their political opponent; they’re out to persuade those watching. Likewise for any social media engagement, your posts should not be seen as your attempt to persuade the mob; they should be seen as persuading the many more observers who are weighing the ideas of the “debate.”
Recall the online mob that came after me using the school’s Facebook parent group. It was a mob of three, the most vocal and irrational contributors. Wendy and I were reading all of their posts while resisting the urge to heedlessly engage and defend our reputation. But we did post one very carefully worded response. We were laser-sharp in focusing on the observing audience, not the small mob. It was in response to several posts from the “bond of three” who were trolling through my online articles and, of course, the online gossip sites from four years prior. Wendy and I worked together in wording this — considering those online observers — and came up with the following. We decided Wendy should post it from her profile:
There is no abuse in our family and there never has been.
We have graduated 3 of our children at [the charter school] … We still have 5 of our youngest children going back next year. Chris has a business publishing curriculum. Last year he started subbing and he loved it so much he applied for a position. He has readjusted his busy schedule to go back in teaching full time. About 5 years ago some of our older children got involved in an online site that was full of fabrications. This site encouraged them to fabricate stories about homeschool leaders which my husband is one. All of it has been debunked.
Our family went through a devastating time when it happened but it is all pretty much reconciled now. The website has been defunct and the story about Chris was totally fake. When you apply for a teaching job there is a full background check done and fingerprinting and my husband has a squeaky clean record. FB and Gossip sites are not facts. Chris has a great public teaching record and your children will learn much from him.
That’s the short of it.
Now, do you think we wrote this to try to persuade the smearing parents? This wasn’t even a consideration. We were out to persuade the hundreds of other parents who may have been reading along, and this one response worked very well. Those parents were naturally concerned that the academy had made a mistake in hiring me, but Wendy brought a new perspective that online viewers may not have been considering. After making the clear and unapologetic denial of the accusation of abuse, she highlighted my strengths and our contributions to the school. She then gave the motherly touch of how difficult the original story had been on the family, but that it had been debunked. And Wendy’s post — compared to the drawn-out sabre rattling of the “bond of three” that overwhelmed the Facebook group — was short, even ending on that note. Several observing parents confirmed later that Wendy’s concise and focused response convinced them that the school had not made a mistake in hiring me. Some of them even became vocal advocates for keeping this reality TV “star”/debate coach on.
The concept of considering your audience has incredibly broad implications, more so than just debate or Facebook groups. This is a fundamental strategy that both ameteur and professional speakers apply; before all, consider your audience. All speeches should be built on this foundation. This makes you a better thinker, too, when asked to engage in simple conversations, even one-on-one discussions. Rather than placing yourself (your opinion, your ego, your ideas) at the center of your thinking, put the other’s at the center. Your audience should always be at the forefront of your mind. This not only makes you a better thinker, it makes you a better person. Don’t you appreciate people who do this with you, who have your ideas and interests and opinions at the front of their mind and the tip of their tongue? If you make a habit of considering your audience first, you will find yourself with more friends and more influence than you thought possible.
Friends and influence are invaluable when you later face the mob of hate in a social smear. This perspective is largely the reason why I did not engage in “debating” my daughters. The pull at my heart was to persuade them to come home, but I knew the stage of social media was not the place to do it. But friends did, and rightly so. When the mob attempted to hijack my Facebook profile, friends would come to my defense and keep me from being totally torn apart. They probably saw themselves as trying to persuade the mob, but I saw them as persuading those who were peeking in and considering the truth of the matter. This wasn’t evident at the time, but later came to light when people would share that at first they thought there was truth in the original accusations, but after a while they saw how unbelievable it all was. They witnessed an online debate about me. If I had jumped in and berated my daughters for lying, my words would have persuaded no one, and the opposite effect would have emerged.
I hope this gives you more confidence, whether you’re suffering at the hands of a social smearer yourself, or if you’re helping a friend or family member who is. You’ve probably been in this position, wondering whether or not to engage by posting your thoughts in an online exchange — or even a face-to-face discussion at work or in a social setting. Should you stick up for the reputation of a friend? Or should you ignore the slight? I use this to weigh my decision: Who is the audience? If my audience is the person — one-on-one — and that person is known as a fallacious thinker with little care for truth, I will avoid the conversation (or take a radically different approach, which I’ll explore in the next chapter). But if my audience consists of many more onlookers trying to sort out the online gossip from the truth, I will engage with the fallacious thinker. And, because I’m trained in logic and debate, I’ll win. I may not convince my opponent of the truth, but I will convince the audience. That’s called sticking up for a friend.
“Think, speak and persuade, in that order.” And leave the heavy lifting to others, rather than trying to fight your way out by yourself. This is the only way to survive a social smear. If you find yourself in my shoes and are smeared by someone you love or appreciate, trust me, I totally understand your tendency to punch back and counterattack your accuser or the mob that follows along. My strong advice, though, is to resist defending yourself and let others come to your defense. Behind the scenes, you can even ask (beg) them to do so.
This doesn’t leave you without personal options, however. Persuading the madness of the mob seems impossible, but it isn’t. Traditional debate techniques work wonders when dealing with logical, reasonable people; dealing with madness takes higher-level strategy. Keep reading!
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