Professor Rob Howard has stated that he finds it “flattering and gratifying” to cause distress to others on social media. The provocative language that Professor Howard chooses to use is regularly unpleasant and often nasty. Professor Howard has openly stated that he “enjoys” it when his provocative language causes distress. He describes this as a “highly validating sign” [here Professor Howard appears to be suggesting that any fault/issue is with the recipient].
Professor Howard responds to any critical feedback of psychiatry on social media by labelling those offering such feedback as “trolls” or “anti-psychiatrists”. Given that Professor Howard is a senior academic and scientist, it is interesting to note this departure from scientific method which to be valid requires openness to all feedback.
On social media, Professor Howard has a routine approach that he takes to views that he does not agree with. Instead of doing his best to consider the specific point being raised, he will generally use language that suggests that the “problem” is with the contributor. If an exchange does develop, it is not uncommon for Professor Howard to use sarcasm, or to patronise, to try and belittle the contributor. Sometimes this will include the invocation of sexualised innuendo. This often encourages some of his Twitter followers to join in.
Professor Howard has suggested that some of those who have expressed concerns about his behaviour on social media may be motivated by a sexual attraction to him and has used ‘BINGO cards’ to ‘confirm’ this bizarre theory. From my point of view, my only interest is in relation to the behaviour of mental health professionals on social media. Professional values matter. I have looked at this as widely as I can for this reason alone. I do not use inflammatory language. I can reassure Professor Howard that I have no special interest in him. Indeed, he has no relevance in my life whatsoever. I have many interests. Professor Howard is not one of them.
Professor Howard, like a number of other prominent social media psychiatrists, who routinely ignore College Core Values, argue that concerns raised in relation to this amounts to “harassment”. The following quote from a newspaper comes to mind:
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has always been determined to ‘combat’ stigma. Although there is no generally accepted specific theory of stigma, it can be defined as ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting and that reduces the bearer from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one’ (Goffman, 1963). One of the initiatives set up by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to address stigma is this educational module. The module, in its introduction, states: “Attitudes held by health professionals, including those who work in and outside of mental health, can have positive and negative impacts upon patient quality of care.” A whole section of this module explores this question: What can people including psychiatrists do to reduce stigma?
The advent of social media has created a new environment where health professionals are at risk of increasing rather than reducing stigma. The balance of power between psychiatrists and patients [members of the public] has always been unequal because of the legal authority to detain. This imbalance also includes the application of diagnostic categories to others. It is disappointing to see any misuse of this power, for this will only perpetuate stigma. It is a real challenge for the Royal College of Psychiatrists to ensure that the values that the organisation has set out are followed by its members in all settings, including social media.
Recently the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists “reissued” a reminder of the College’s Social Media Policy which Professor Robert Howard has continued to ignore. Prof Robert Howard has left a number of people on social media so distressed that they have been suicidal. It is surely time for the College to take action.
As part of their Social Media Policy , the College included a film by their Dean, Dr Kate Lovett, in which she shared “her tips on how to successfully run a Twitter account“.
To play this short version of ‘Kate’s Twitter Tips’ please click here or on the image below: