Keep up with all the chapters at the book page of Facing Hate: Overcoming Social Smearing, Recovering Relationships, and Rebuilding Your Reputation.
My social smear reappeared right at the time I was supposed to overcome my family dilemma and return to my lifelong joy of teaching. That’s when the social shamers seeped out of the ground and attempted to drag me down under again. How easy it was to have the old news of a social smear, long since forgotten, whipped up again into a frothing mess. To think that I was nearly removed as an English teacher for crimes I never committed, that I was never legally tried, and that I was never duly convicted. I was merely accused with unadulterated gossip, but instead of a healthy culture that resists and discredits gossip, we have a “cancel” culture with worldwide platforms that “repost,” “like,” and “share” the hate. I shudder to think of the potential power this new world has over us all.
I want nothing more than to slay the dragon of social smearing. My heart bleeds all over its trail, a trail already painted with the blood of my wife, my children, my children’s spouses and their children, my extended family and friends. They did not ask to be known as fellow victims with a smeared public figure, and the weight of shame should not be theirs to bear. Six years ago when the smear initially splattered the walls of the internet, my business and its audience of speakers and debaters — moms and dads, too, who wanted the chance to peer into the life of a joyous family — felt the burdening shame. The thousands of students who read my textbooks, the teachers who bought my resources and the parents who sought more Love in the House from Chris and Wendy Jeub certainly felt associated with the kindred shame that fell upon the Jeub name.
My family’s story is phenomenal in many ways, but I can’t shake the question from my mind: Why? Specifically, why does the mob continue? Why insist on hating? I find the thought of hating others to be exhausting. You have likely asked the same, especially when you first laid eyes on the destructive post from a confidant or loved one. Your heart sank and you were embarrassed by the accusations — true or not — and you wondered, “Why are they doing this to me?” The inquiry echoes through our caves, but the beast remains silent and will not give an answer.
I believe I have that answer, and it was actually answered for me years ago, shortly before my smear tried to smother me. I find myself surprised I hadn’t already woven it into my summer’s work, for it holds so much power. But I now know that my fear held even more power over me. I admit I was afraid to be totally transparent, hesitant to share with you … my own participation in the online mob. This fear is different from the revelation of libelous accusations that still remain filed away in the dark corners of the World Wide Web. My defense of this is today rather easy: I am not an abuser and can bravely stand against this false narrative. Vindication is behind me, but redemption still lingers ungranted.
I hope throughout my story you have empathized with my trials — perhaps you have even identified with them, being a victim of social smearing yourself. More and more of us are suffering from this shame. I find it most helpful to hear from others who have withstood the myriad ways the mob attempts to shame them — blog posts, social media, whatever latest web-induced method of torture that can be inflicted upon the innocent. The machine of social smearing is constantly changing. But I feel a genuine shame that is unique from the standard victim.
For you see, the leaders of the online mob were my students. I was their teacher.
This is not a metaphor; they were quite literally my pupils. And I taught them how to be keyboard assassins, tear apart the reputations of good people and ruin the lives of the innocent.
When writing I give little room for hate. I love to write about deep topics, and sometimes they can be controversial. Some of my favorite articles have been the most challenging, my hands shaking as I press “send” or “publish.” I’m usually not regretful because I spend copious time researching, editing and rewriting the myriad details of my thoughts. I give myself ample time to consider all sides of an issue, looking deeply into the thoughts and ideas of those who oppose my ideas, those who have been cordial yet challenging, convicting but not condemning. I believe all authors of substance worth sharing operate from this perspective. This goes for any number of spokespeople well worth listening to — leaders, CEOs and presidents, pastors, teachers, etc. In a real way, they operate from a perspective of love rather than hate, communicating their passions, their fears, their desires to an audience they care deeply for, communities of people whom they love.
Today there is this counterweight: the mob. Their online attacks attempt to silence those whom they hate. You, too, have seen the responsive hate in online controversy. Take a moment and review some of the articles you have read online lately, especially the more interesting ones. Read the comments written below the authors’ text. We have entire movements whose primary weapon is online smearing, and even automated “bots” — sometimes even from foreign governments out to stir dissension — all devoted to the sole purpose of smearing people and their ideas. Today it’s practically old news already: even tech giants are muddying the water with shadow banning, comment ghosting and algorithms programmed to block content for the sake of promoting a social agenda and shaming the opposition into silence.
I communed with a developing “mob” that sprouted in the debate community, particularly homeschool debaters. They credited themselves as “recovering” from their Christian upbringings. These were a natural spring of homeschool kids — now adults — who were vocally challenging the leadership of old. Some in the mainstream media were picking up on their anger and disillusion, a popular magazine article dubbing the group “Homeschool Apostates,” and showing how these young adults were exposing “hidden dysfunction” in the community of home educators. They quoted so-called victims of abusive homes, consistently making the link to the idea that homeschooling itself abided and covered up such abuse. There was always the implied connection, fallacious as it was, to a political goal of restricting freedoms and silencing those they hated.
This community grew and got organized. They launched a website where they published testimonials from other adults who reported abuses in their upbringing. The editors of the blog took aim at prominent educational leaders, especially the most religious ones, and extrapolated stories and expositions of their most radical ideas and beliefs. The writing style of this community was more impressive than your average keyboard warrior; these students were logical, complex and persuasive. They spread their rebuttals through social media and were bold challengers of Christian beliefs, focused primarily on teaching young adults to doubt the world in which they were raised.
I held out hope for these “apostates,” like any teacher would hold onto hope for rebellious students. I had to. For some of these articulate, well-spoken, persuasive debaters were trained to be so in my own debate club. The founding member was an assistant coach at one of my debate camps years prior. They were now grown up and utilizing the techniques I had taught through my clubs, camps and curriculum. They used these skills to shame and condemn homeschool leaders, often their own parents. These young adults saw themselves as “liberators” of enslaved children trapped in hierarchical upbringings, sharing horrifying stories of abuse and neglect, vociferously shaming their parents and any of their sympathizers. They used their blogging platform to supposedly “expose the truth” and bring light to the embarrassing corners of the homeschooling movement. And they had the political aim to cripple hard-fought laws that protected parental rights to home educate.
At first I tried to understand them. I was even intrigued by the boldness of their writing. I reached out to their leadership and formed online friendships, eager to learn of their impassioned goals and aspirations. They insisted that they merely wanted to expose abuse, that they felt more empowered by online smearing than more proper channels of direct confrontation or the court of law. Shortly before my daughter went public with her rendition of abuse in our family’s homeschool, I made a public declaration in a blog post of my own encouraging them as “change agents” and “freedom fighters.” I attempted to encourage other homeschool leaders to be open to their message — presenting it as challenging and convicting, similar to much of my writing — and probing the idea that perhaps there was some truth to their brazen way of communicating. In my mind at the time, I was encouraging the homeschool movement to “lean in” and learn.
I was naive. You know the story of my daughters, two of whom had just finished a successful stint of debating and had an impressive display of trophies to show for it. They became friends with this community of disgruntled homeschoolers. They were soon coached to turn against their family, even to the point of fabricating a brutal narrative, from which the network of young adults ran roughshod through the internet with their exposé. My family has been trudging through the lies ever since.
When my daughter’s initial blog post dropped on October 4, 2014, I not only reached out to her and her corroborating sisters, I reached out to the leaders of this online group, my former students. I wrote to them asking them to please get involved and help me speak sense to my daughters. My letter was desperate, and I hoped for sympathy. Instead, their response was cold and obtuse, calling my request “entirely inappropriate” and “manipulative and damaging.” They took down my contributions from their site and replaced them with disclaimers of how I now was “discovered” to be “yet another abuser.” Their full focus was to now retweet, repost and share the attacks against me and my family.
I lost so much hope that day, for my daughters as well as my students. It was a devastating blow that crushed my heart, my soul and even my physical body. I was a father and educator, hoping for great accomplishments from my children and students. These young adults should have been doing great things with their learned skills, but were instead serving as advocates for my ruin, standing firmly on the blogging platforms that I helped them create and promote, writing a deceptive yet persuasive narrative that I was a monster who wreaked havoc on the lives of the innocent, on my own children. And they were simultaneously doing this to a number of other families, always ready to serve up a political statement against homeschooling.
My deepest fear is that I created the mob. Like Frankenstein, I gave life to the Monster that now raised hell throughout the countryside of the internet. And like the creator of Mary Shelley’s beast who hid in a cave-like dwelling when he fled his creation, so I hid in my shame and my fear. Perhaps my failing business and my troubled home life was because of the beast of social smearing, but it was a beast that I helped bring to life. Perhaps the past several years of rebuilding my family name and online reputation, claiming how unfair my online smear was, was a form of self-centered self-sabotage, a way for me to escape the brutally honest realization that I helped create the mob. Shelley’s classic tale goes in the most terrifying direction: the Monster hunts down Dr. Frankenstein and murders his family. How similar had my story become? This experience was so traumatic, so inescapable, that I literally tremble at the thought of the mob returning one last time to ultimately destroy me — or worse, my family.
Am I blaming myself too much? I didn’t pull the trigger on the gun, and I don’t make up lies to shame anyone. As I mentioned, I love to write challenging works, but I refuse to condemn those who refute what I write. The mob claims I am an abusive father, but I stand firmly against the claim. Yet the shame of the accusation still hums along, the killer bats still swarm within its cave, and voluntarily opening myself up to more lies does seem irrational. Several friends have asked me why I’m so bothered by my online reputation, and if I am disturbed, why kick the hornet’s nest? To mix classic tales, Dracula lies within, so perhaps I should leave the cave, never return, and get on with my life. To most this seems like the only sane move.
If you are dealing with a social smear, you likely want nothing more in the world than to return to your previously peaceful, tranquil life. Wouldn’t that be nice? But that is ignoring the mountain that needs to be moved. You and I need to bravely face our fear, walk into the metaphorical cave, and confront our Monster.
This book is me entering the cave of my deepest admissions, a confession to the world, a cross-carrying surrender of my own sins and weaknesses. Would it be the end of my family and its name if I were to explore the truth embedded in the online fabrications against me? I fear this, but I fear more the legion of liars who may eventually hunt me down and ultimately win. It isn’t enough for me to ignore the mob. There is only one way to subdue the swarm of bloodsucking Chiroptera: enter the cave and drive a stake into the heart of the lies.
I have been accused of crimes, you know that much. But I have much to share about the accusations. Set aside the social smear articulated by my blogging daughter, and I have a lot to say about how my children were raised, the mistakes I made as a parent, right along with the healthy changes Wendy and I have made. My estranged daughters do not know these truths, but they could if they would set aside the hate their mob so encourages. I also have much to share about religious “fundamentalism,” the unearthed fear from the parental “bond of three” who used social smearing as an attempt to strip me of my teaching position. I would love to sit down with these parents and explore the harms of legalism and spiritual abuse. I have experienced similar pain, so painful that I have resisted much of it in my writings. I’d wager that we have much in common — my accusers and I — and open, intimate dialogue would lead to great healing, restoration and redemption.
I consider this to be the biggest loss in social smearing: relationships that never reconcile and never grow or change. My first year of teaching could have been so much better if I had been treated fairly, honestly, as a human being deserving of dignity and respect. I could have gotten to know people where they were, and we likely would have become friends. This is true for any estrangement, isn’t it? A falling out with a neighbor, relative or loved one puts a huge downer on life. We alienate one another with hate, and social smearing added onto that hate makes it seem impossible to ever get along, let alone love again. What happens when I reach out in love and try to connect with those who hate me? In the social smearing world, I’m exchanging pearls for a hand grenade. And the haters have free and easy social media tools that serve to pull the pin.
Again, I ask the question, Why? I think I know the answer: to silence. As a writer I hate to admit it, but for the past six years my adversaries have succeeded. Wendy and I both stopped writing about our parenting — we even took down our family’s website — and posting anything enlightening or challenging to the online world has been carefully, methodically calculated as a risk. Will it immediately make exactly the impact that we want? Because, our conviction goes, it will almost certainly be met with ridicule and hate. As already discussed, my ministry, business and teaching has been tempered and in some cases diminished to nothing. I walk on the most delicate eggshells, careful to avoid any topic worth exploring, fear of the mob rising up and suffocating me again. I have closed into a cocoon, silent on the issues that matter most to me, on topics that I feel I could help others with, about the love that I could share with the world. I’ve become an island; I’ve been silenced.
If you have a personal story with social smearing, you likely feel the same. If you’ve been attacked by an adult child as I have, you likely hesitate before sharing anything online about your family. Even at private gatherings, someone’s innocent inquiry about how your family is doing leads to a struggle between being honest and being superficial. “Just fine” may be communicated, but your heart is retching in anguish, wondering how much the questioner really knows of your social smear. You stand accused, full of doubt, ashamed for that which you may not have even done. If your business has been attacked online — no matter how unfairly — you likely suffered a depressing bout of second-guessing the work you do for others. If you’re a professional — perhaps a teacher like me — and the clients or employees or students you care most for turn on you and shame you online, you feel like quitting. Perhaps you already have. I don’t blame you. Trust me, I’ve walked in your shoes, and I know the depth of your feelings.
The purpose of the mob is to silence, but my purpose — Chris Jeub’s purpose in his writing, parenting and teaching — is the exact opposite. In my home, “shut up” is akin to a swear word, never uttered by Wendy or me and always rebuked when voiced by one of our children. Silence is the antithesis of the training I gave my students, the debaters who assailed me into silence six years ago. They took their training to a dark side that I never advocated. All the noble traits of debate — research, logic and reasoning, argumentation, rhetoric, understanding of opposing views and deep analysis — are to be used to promote discourse and dialogue. It is a communications pedagogy, not a technique to mute your opposition. Policy debates should lead to better laws, value debates should clarify complexities in conflicting situations, and factual debates should separate truth from fiction. My students — my daughters included — took these powerful tools and used them to silence those of us who promote good policies, wholesome values, and even facts and truths worth sharing.
I often explain to people that debating is not fighting, though I am starting to see the value of fighting a good fight. Done correctly, fighting builds up good policies, values and thoughts, as opposed to destroying them. Competition in ideas is always good for it sharpens the message and leads to truth. Some seem to think resisting argumentation is somehow peaceful, but I have found that such advocates often have their own hidden agendas and are merely waiting for an opportune moment to attack you as a person, to silence you as the opposition. It is ad hominem — Latin for “to the man” — and it is one of the most common logical fallacies implemented by the mob. I train debaters to be curious, not carnivorous, and to respect and explore their opponents’ viewpoints and opinions. Debating is, to me, a most spiritual practice, “training the mind for action” (1 Peter 1:13), an act of “wrestling” with the angels (Hosea 12:4). Arguing is good; it is exercising the muscles of the mind, honoring and exploring the opposition and engaging in the outcomes in unison with so-called enemies. God himself calls us to do so, saying, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). In fact, “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) is most evident in a fair and wholesome debate. If practiced, no matter where someone falls on the side of a political, moral or factual proposition, you and I can be most confident that the decision in the end will be much stronger than when initially proposed, and healing and restoration will result. Even between adversaries, argumentation and debate can bring redemption.
The socially smeared are truly facing hate, and the mob is the opposition, the enemy. They are trying to silence you. But you have a calling and a message that you were born to share, and you need to press forward and share it! The mob wants you to “shut up,” to run away or curl up into a fetal position and lie on the floor, alone and ashamed. No! Whatever the attack that comes at you from the hateful mob, you must, with love, debate that attack! “Fight the good fight,” Paul encouraged his pupil in 1 Timothy 6:12. “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”
So, why must the mob continue? Why do they insist on hating? Because they want to shut you up, that’s why, but you need to fight back. Refuse to be silenced. Face the hate. Have full confidence that your “shield of faith” will protect you from the fire of the dragon until you can stand up and fight back.
Your next question is, How? I will explore that answer next.
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