Think Before You Post: Facebook, Chris Owens, and My Grandma

December 27th, 2012 by Steve Maloney

Chris Owens New Orleans Performer

Chris Owens: from burlesque to the NFL.

I had an unexpected conversation with my Grandma on Christmas Day. You see, a while back my parents got her an iPad, and she uses it to get on Facebook pretty much every day. This has been a really great development for her, as it allows her to instantly see pictures of my cousins in Texas and keep up with family friends across the US.

My Grandma figured out how to declare that the Bee Gees are her favorite band on her Facebook page pretty quickly, but what I just discovered is that Facebook is a primarily innocent place for her. She hasn’t watched the site go from pokes to likes to pictures to drunken pictures to sarcasm to the Notorious IPO to one giant platform for ads like the rest of us have.

It made me realize how much fun Facebook was way back in 2007 when I first encountered it. This was back in a time when nobody could link Twitter to their status, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t care which movies you like to watch, and people were pretty much on point with their status updates — even though they all started with the dreaded “is.”

But above all that, I realized that when you are producing content for any online source, you have no idea who is going to read it and how they might react.

Would the Real Chris Owens Please Stand Up

Now, to understand the nature of my Grandma’s Facebook status misadventure, you first need a lesson in French Quarter Royalty. For as long as anyone can remember, a local singer, dancer, burlesque performer, and all around entertainer named Chris Owens has had a strong presence on Bourbon Street.

Every Easter, Owens leads what can only be described as the most sensational and fabulous Easter parade on the planet. She also holds court regularly in her eponymous club on the corner of Bourbon and St. Louis Streets. The woman is a living legend. She is also older than my grandmother, but that doesn’t seem to slow Chris Owens down one bit.

Now, imagine my surprise as I was watching an otherwise disappointing New Orleans Saints game versus the Atlanta Falcons when the name “Chris Owens” was suddenly all over the screen. It turns out the Falcons have a 26 year old cornerback named Chris Owens. He happened to have a very good game against the Saints that day (which I still hold against him), so the announcers kept saying the name “Chris Owens” again and again.

My initial thought was “My God, is there anything that woman can’t do?” and I posted as such on my Facebook wall. Little did I know the effects that would follow.

Sarcastic Facebook Status Updates

My friends and I tend to alternately vent our frustrations and shout our exultations about our beloved yet downtrodden New Orleans Saints during every game. This season started off with complaints about the replacement refs and ended in a mixed chorus of “next year” and “I hate Roger Goodell.” In the midst of all of this, I posted my status alluding to how amazing it is that a burlesque performer who got her start in the 1960s is also an NFL player, intentionally blurring the lines between the two very different people.

Now, when my Grandma read that, she didn’t take it that way. She agreed with me that Chris Owens the performer is amazing, and went on to say that she has been performing since my Grandma was a little girl. I thought that was a great comment, so I liked it.

Then my friend Christian came along and pulled a “Leave Britney Alone!” defense of Chris Owens. My grandmother, not accustomed to the level of cynical sarcasm, snark, and pop culture references that permeate Facebook status updates, thought she had offended my friend and was quite distressed. So on Christmas Day, I had to explain to my grandmother that no one was offended, and how no one means exactly what they say on Facebook. But how do we draw that line?

Watch What You Say

This brings me back to my central point. What started off as a small bit of humor to fill the void of a crappy Saints season ended up with my grandma scared that she had offended a friend of mine by talking about an octogenarian burlesque performer. (You want to move to New Orleans now, don’t you? This is normal here.)

It reminded me that no matter what your intention, and no matter what you say, you will probably offend someone somewhere. When writing online content for absolutely any outlet, your prime concern as an online content producer should be to sound as neutral as possible while still reaching your client’s intended audience.

This is not as easy as it sounds, and Facebook status update fails are only the tip of the iceberg — so be careful what you say and how you say it. A simple joke can end up being offensive, and that’s usually not what the client is looking for. While my incident didn’t make waves, a personal Facebook update can tarnish your professional reputation, and it’s even more important to watch out when you’re writing in the voice of a client. This isn’t to say that you can’t embrace divisive topics and provoke discussion, but as with most things, absolute clarity is the primary goal.

What is your favorite Facebook status misfire?