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Physician, heal thyself

TERF basher Dr Adrian Harrop succumbed to Twitter’s intoxicating brew of self-righteousness and disinhibition

Disciplinary proceedings against Dr Adrian Harrop began on 15 November 2021. He is a well known “ally” to trans people and had a very active Twitter presence until late October 2020 when he deleted his account, claiming that he had been subjected to significant levels of abuse and harassment.

One had been threatened by Dr Harrop with revelation of her private information

The GMC brought charges accusing him of using his Twitter account between 2018-2019 to post tweets that were offensive, insulting and/or inappropriate in nature. The proceedings were “live tweeted” by @TribunalTweets.

Those on the receiving end of Dr Harrop’s angry tweets were individuals who did not accept that men could become women on their assertion alone — or “bigots” and “Terfs” in Dr Harrop’s language. Five witnesses made statements setting out the impact of the doctor’s behaviour, which included “highly offensive language” and “misogynistic references to women’s menstrual cycles”. One had been threatened by Dr Harrop with revelation of her private information if she did not remove herself from social media. Others found the doctor “joking” about making trips to locations near where they lived.

On 30 November, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service concluded its investigation, finding that his behaviour on social media had been “deplorable” and his fitness to practice was impaired. He was suspended for one month.

An interesting feature of these proceedings was Dr Harrop’s unusual choice to be interviewed in the middle of them by Vice, who described his activities in this way:

A British doctor who used social media to defend trans rights could lose his job because of complaints about his posts. Dr Adrian Harrop, a GP based in Liverpool is currently going through a Medical Practitioners Tribunal hearing regarding his conduct on his Twitter account, which he dedicated to speaking up for trans lives.

A misplaced moral imperative runs alongside a general prohibition on discussion

Dr Harrop then appeared at an event in Liverpool on 21 November, happy to be photographed wearing a “Terf Repellent” badge.  His claimed insight, regret and remorse therefore appeared to be built on rather flimsy foundations. It is difficult to characterise tweets such as this as no more than overly enthusiastic support for “trans rights”:

“Reality is that TERFS aren’t interested in anything of the sort — they dress up their hatred and bigotry towards trans people in a veil of ‘genuine concerns’ re ‘safety’ and ‘civil, intellectual debate’, but in truth it’s complete nonsense. TERFS hate Trans. Simple as that.”

The behaviour examined by these proceedings is an excellent distillation of the toxic and dangerous brew generated by self righteous moral anger and the “disinhibition effect” of social media. Dr Harrop attempted to explain his actions in this way, as a gay man recognising how he had benefited from those willing to “stand up” for him.

“If people hadn’t stood up for the likes of me when we were little, fighting against really intense homophobia, there’s no way we could be so open and loud and proud now. That’s ultimately what I felt I was doing when I was doing this, and I tried my best to do that in the most effective and positive way possible.”

Dr Harrop admitted to many of the charges laid against him — but also claimed that he had been a victim of an “orchestrated” campaign of complaints, while at the same time stating his regret at getting mixed up in arguments with vulnerable individuals.

Regardless of the moral character or intellectual worth of those he sparred with, Dr Harrop remained at all times an identifiable medical professional. When a misplaced sense of moral imperative runs alongside a general prohibition on any kind of discussion about the tension between trans and women’s rights, it is little surprise that even members of regulated professions can be driven into embarrassingly bad public behaviour.

Twitter will continue to be the graveyard of much professional ambition

This isn’t a “free speech” issue. Dr Harrop does not have any protected rights pursuant to article 10 ECHR to threaten and insult members of the public as an identified doctor. Regulated professions are regulated for a reason; membership carries with it enhanced social and financial status as well as opportunities to have significant impact on the lives of others. All of this demands high standards of behaviour. As the tribunal found:

“His actions brought the profession into disrepute, undermining public confidence in the profession and the standards of conduct expected from members of the profession … Whilst Dr Harrop has a right to his views and to express them, the manner and thought processes he demonstrated raised concerns regarding the extent of his insight, and his inability to fully appreciate the wider context of his obligations as a doctor.”

There is no doubt that a quest for likes and retweets on Twitter is highly addictive and dangerous for a certain personality type. It’s interesting to speculate which came first — the chicken of Dr Harrop’s misguided campaigning zeal, or the egg of a social media platform which sets up an addictive feedback loop of validation based on outrage. But it’s clear that Twitter will continue to be the graveyard of much professional ambition. Dr Harrop isn’t unique as a member of a regulated professional to let this addiction override his any sense of proportion, and he won’t be the last.

Hopefully he can serve as a further useful warning to those who mistake Twitter for a private conversation, or think that insults and intimidation are an effective campaigning tool or a way of making change. His behaviour isn’t just a matter of individual regret — it is toxic and damaging to us all. The tensions between those who support the right of men to identify as women on their assertion alone, and those who do not, are real and serious and will require correspondingly mature and sensible discussion. The choice of Vice to re-frame Dr Harrop as a noble crusader, wrongly accused — even in the middle of a hearing about his fitness to practice — suggests that we still have some way to go.

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