Did you see the controversy over the weekend between Camilla Hudson and Morry Matson? Hudson is a black woman in Chicago, and Matson is a gay white male Republican who manages a CVS store. According to Hudson, this is what happened to her when she went into his store:

Here’s the video on a Twitter post that was shared many times:

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— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) July 14, 2018

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Matson, shaking like a leaf in that clip, became a total social media pariah — especially because he’s a Republican and a Trump supporter who got caught a while back forging signatures on a petition. CVS’s corporate office apologized to Hudson for what happened, and fired Matson and another employee on duty. 

Maybe these guys deserved what they got. But check this out, from an account Hudson gave to a local media outlet:

“You’re calling me a liar, you’re calling me a thief, you’re calling me a forger,” she said. “It’s not that they didn’t take the coupon or refused to take the coupon, it’s how he did it. He was nasty, he was unprofessional, he was dismissive, he was accusatory — his entire tone and demeanor was offensive and problematic.”

From there, Hudson said she stood her ground and insisted to know what was wrong with her coupon. She asked the managers to call CVS corporate offices to help resolve the issue. She followed one of the managers throughout the store as he walked away from her, and eventually pulled out her phone to document the interaction, she said. When he noticed she was filming, the manager stopped responding to Hudson and walked to the back of the store where customers are not permitted, she said.

Shortly thereafter, Hudson said Matson appeared and told her that she “better leave because I called the police.”

How would you have handled a customer like that? A customer who follows you through the store, then takes out her camera to film you?

According to Hudson, the cops told her that Matson had the authority to ask her to leave:

Hudson said an officer explained that the managers were acting as an “agent” of CVS and therefore had the authority to tell people to leave, otherwise they could be arrested for criminal trespassing.

While she was willing to comply with their directions, Hudson said she didn’t feel she was treated equally compared to the CVS employees — particularly because she’d not broken any laws. She collected the officers’ information.

“My point is: While they did not come in berating me, I’m a citizen of this city as well, and it’s my understanding it’s the job of the police department to serve and protect everyone,” Hudson said. “I did not feel served, I did not feel protected, and I did not feel they were there in any capacity to represent my interests, and my well-being.”

Wait … what? The only person whose side we are being told is Camilla Hudson’s, and she thinks everybody involved did her wrong. The Chicago Tribune says in its lede:

CVS has fired two employees at a store in the Edgewater neighborhood who called the police on a black female customer Saturday after she attempted to use a coupon.

The Tribune‘s phrasing leads you to believe that Matson called the cops because Hudson tried to use the coupon. He called the cops after she chased the employee into the back of the store, and refused to leave. Big difference.

Like I said, maybe Matson deserved to be fired for the way he handled this. But once this thing went viral on social media, there was exactly zero chance that those employees would keep their jobs. Now Matson’s face and name is all over social media, denounced as a racist (“demon possessed” shrieks the Woke Progressive YouTube channel) … and nobody has yet heard his side of the story, or the other manager’s, who is now unemployed. Just like that.

Here’s a great Quillette piece by a pseudonymous author calling himself Barrett Wilson, talking about how he used to be big into SJW callout culture … until the progressive mob turned on him. Excerpts:

I drive food delivery for an online app to make rent and support myself and my young family. This is my new life. I once had a well paid job in what might be described as the social justice industry. Then I upset the wrong person, and within a short window of time, I was considered too toxic for my employer’s taste. …

When my callouts were met with approval and admiration, I was lavished with praise: “Thank you so much for speaking out!” “You’re so brave!” “We need more men like you!”

Then one day, suddenly, I was accused of some of the very transgressions I’d called out in others. I was guilty, of course: There’s no such thing as due process in this world. And once judgment has been rendered against you, the mob starts combing through your past, looking for similar transgressions that might have been missed at the time. I was now told that I’d been creating a toxic environment for years at my workplace; that I’d been making the space around me unsafe through microaggressions and macroaggressions alike.

Social justice is a surveillance culture, a snitch culture. The constant vigilance on the part of my colleagues and friends did me in. That’s why I’m delivering sushi and pizza. Not that I’m complaining. It’s honest work, and it’s led me to rediscover how to interact with people in the real world. I am a kinder and more respectful person now that I’m not regularly on social media attacking people for not being “kind” and “respectful.”

I mobbed and shamed people for incidents that became front page news. But when they were vindicated or exonerated by some real-world investigation, it was treated as a footnote by my online community. If someone survives a social justice callout, it simply means that the mob has moved on to someone new. No one ever apologizes for a false accusation, and everyone has a selective memory regarding what they’ve done.

Read the whole thing. 

I am glad that people have phones now, and can document instances of harassment and abuse, especially by those in authority. But at what point does this become abusive? The mob has so much power. Morry Matson might well be an unkind person, and he might be guilty of mistreating Camilla Hudson, but he’s ruined now, because of the social media mob. I feel sorry for him, to be honest, because the punishment seems disproportionate to the crime — if indeed there was a crime (so to speak). If there were video of Camilla Hudson running after the other fired employee with her camera in hand, I wonder how that would change our perspective. Did she make a scene? We know by her own admission that she refused to leave the store when asked by the manager to do so, and that she was legally in the wrong.

This story is more complicated than social media would have us believe, is what I’m saying. But it doesn’t matter, because what the social media mob says, goes. It sounds great when the people you hate are suffering from it. But what happens when the technology and the mob turns on you?

UPDATE: Guys, my point is what kind of society can withstand a condition in which everybody has the potential to destroy their lives if they say the wrong thing in the presence of a smartphone?

UPDATE.2: I had to be up early this morning to take my wife to the airport. I stopped to get gas. The older black woman behind the counter as I was trying to pay was gruff and dismissive when I asked her a question. I didn’t care. It wasn’t daylight yet, and maybe she was having trouble getting started. I didn’t even bother telling my wife about it when I came out.

It occurred to me later, on the drive home, that if I had been the easily offended sort, I could have whipped out my smartphone and started interrogating her, and put whatever she said on social media, with incendiary racial commentary, before I left the parking lot. Given her demeanor, and without evidence to the contrary, it would have been easy to provoke her, to make her look terrible and racially bigoted. Depending on how she reacted, and how determined I was to punish her for being rude, I might have been able to get her fired. And if I had, that might have turned into another racial blow-up: right-wing snowflake columnist takes job away from hard-working black woman. It would have been true, too. And we would have had a lot of people who don’t even know each other hating on each other. For what?

But had I done that, despite the woman’s initial rudeness, it wouldn’t have been remotely fair. She was a grumpy old lady trying to get a gas station going at 5:30 in the morning. I bet she treated everybody that way at that hour. And I bet everybody did the same thing as I did: thought, wow, she’s having a bad morning, that sure is irritating … and then went about their business. It was nothing for me to stay polite, and to brush off her rudeness. That doesn’t make me a saint. It just makes me a normal person. We all learn to do that, right? To put up with the faults of each other — of salespeople, and customers — and not make a federal case of their failures to treat us perfectly.

I’m thinking now about this scene from the film The Lives Of Others. It takes place in the cafeteria of the secret police headquarters in East Berlin. One moment of self-forgetfulness, and words that should not have been said, can ruin your life:

UPDATE.2: Reader Matthew:

I don’t know if other teachers can attest to this, but in the last 2-3 years I have really begun to drastically alter my teaching style as it regards how I talk or “banter” back and forth with my students. It is just a given that someone might at any moment be filming you secretly and there is no way to eliminate this short of banning all phones from the school grounds, which will never happen. Maybe its different for me being in an urban inner city school environment, but now more than you just feel like even the slightest misstep could be the end of your career. I’ve been in this school for a long time and have been able to build up what I imagine to be a pretty good amount of social capital with my students and staff, but that still doesn’t mean it couldn’t all be gone very quickly with one student looking to take you down. I have seen it happen before, where a student who has a problem with a teacher will knowingly introduce a controversial topic. One that for all intents and purposes should be legitimate grounds for discussion, but they will steer the discussion quickly in a direction that catches the teacher off guard and if the teacher is not really aware of what is happening it can be a disaster. Even when a teacher may make inconsequential or joking remarks directed toward a individual student, and that student finds no offense it may no longer matter. Because if another student takes offense, just that being reported can start a deluge of administrative actions that quickly get way beyond what most teachers are prepared to deal with. I don’t know about suburban and rural schools but I would imagine that even there this is becoming more of a concern.

Take a generation of kids raised to think that the entire world should cater to them, and if it doesn’t, if their feelings are troubled even slightly, it’s a world-historical outrage … and then give them smartphones and access to social media. See how well that works out for a society like that.