Facebook Follies

The ramifications of speaking your mind on social media and what happens when others interpret these musings (or how I almost lost my job.)

On November 9th, I posted to a link on Facebook to one of my personal blog postings.

The blog post delineated my irritation with the actions of a Syracuse Common Councilor objecting to the style of homes built by the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity on the city’s Near West Side. I made several points:

1) The Habitat homes are affordable, energy efficient and create new homeowners in an area that has seen a sharp decrease in owner occupancy.

2) The Councilor was objecting to homes that were not being built in his district.

3) The Councilor made his objections in a public forum (the Syracuse Planning Commission) instead of working through channels and starting a reasonable discussion about the aesthetics of home design by local non-profit housing agencies.

That last point was why I entitled my post “A Dick Move.” The Urban Dictionary’s secondary description of this phrase states: “Pulling a dick move is engaging in an egregious, selfish and usually public stunt . . .”

When a Facebook friend shared my link to her Facebook page–the Common Councilor in question responded in the comments–and a brief back and forth on the issue ensued.

Unfortunately, this is not where it ended. A Facebook friend Ed Griffin-Nolan is a columnist for the Syracuse New Times and he recently wrote a column about this issue.

Did he write about the substance of my argument? No. He played literary games with the title of my post, claiming that a search on Wikipedia brought no definitions for “dick move” and got the Councilor to say–“He’s basically saying that I’m a dick.”

Now Mr. Griffin-Nolan is a great writer and has done some wonderful things in our community. He’s currently organizing a benefit for Sandy Storm relief and I encourage everyone to donate.

What steams me is the liberties Mr Griffin-Nolan took with my arguments, the facile description of my title and the twisting of my words just to accuse me of “name calling.” He did not once talk to me about my post–I doubt he read past the title. If he had done so he would know that I have always liked the Councilor in question, that I was arguing for exactly the kind of dialogue he argued for in his piece–and that good, kind people can always make dick moves–it doesn’t mean they are bad people.

The phrase was used–and absolutely in its proper context–to describe the action of testifying before the Planning Commission as sort of a publicity stunt. The Councilor is certainly well meaning about this issue–but his methods were not.

The major problem I am facing immediately is the ramifications of Mr. Griffin-Nolan’s characterization of my private Facebook post linking to my private blog as coming from “longtime Syracuse United Neighbors organizer Phil Prehn.” This is a small town and I’m now wondering if I can afford to react to issues on a personal basis via social media without compromising my work organizing residents. I do not speak for SUN, I am an employee of the members of the organization.

What this all means for me is that I have to re-think how I use Facebook. I will be thinking through how my social media activity is interpreted and how I interact with the public online. The only thing I know for sure–I have one less friend on Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Facebook Follies

  1. Nancy Keefe Rhodes

    Hmmm – well, i agree with the substance of your arguments, Phil. It was not a constructive way for the Councilor to complain & besides that I thought he was just wrong. In fact, I commented on the PACNY list-serve that the neighborhood in question is a fluid one, with many mixed styles, & therefore it doesn’t make a lot of sense to cling to a decidedly non-green style that in no longer stable anyway in that locale. I suggested that with a little re-jiggering, viola! Habitat’s one-story houses could look like Arts & Crafts style homes. But anyway, to the matter of “dick moves” – yes, it probably was one & you probably used the term correctly. But two things. First, was it good judgement? I don’t think so. It was the kind of phrase that readers’ eyes invariably snag on – it just carries something extra, no matter how you argue for its being correct usage, & is too close to swearing for shock’s sake not to get stained by that. It was clumsy & as writing, lazy. You might have thought a little longer for a better term, because now you, Ed G-N, me – we’re all spending time on two words rather than the message they were about. For readers, it’s a forest for the trees kind of thing. Second, Facebook isn’t private! When will people learn that? Those days are over the minute you log in online.

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    1. Phil

      Your comments are spot on. I followed the thread on the PACNY list-serve and agree that a discussion about bungalows could be productive. But the substantive points of my post got lost, as you stated, when I used the too flippant title “Dick Move.” I had a cordial phone discussion with Ed this weekend and we never got past this issue–iI’ve come to understand that it’s too much to assume that people can parse my intentions on the title–that it was about the action, not Bob Dougherty’s character.

      It was a dick move on my part, if I may be so bold! (Ironically, I just threw the title up there because I had linked to the Post Standard article on my Facebook a day or so before and had commented “this is a f**ked up thing to do. I thought dick move was toning it down!)

      And, hoo boy–did I ever learn the hard way that Facebook isn’t private. I have a small circle of friends and I never really think that my scribblings get much further out into the world. Also, as a couple other friends have shared with me, the fact that I was commenting on things that are certainly within the scope of issues that I deal with as an organizer will certainly cause people to assume that this is a SUN thing–not just the personal rantings of a frustrated blogger.

      Thanks Nancy!

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  2. Mitch Mitchell

    I have to admit that, though I liked the post, I worried about your using it, knowing the position you’re in. Thing is, I would have shared the post on Facebook myself if the title was otherwise; that’s kind of what got lost.

    You were absolutely right in what you had to say, but your message got lost and abused by someone totally untrustworthy. I hate that, but it’s a lesson learned. That’s why I’m glad I work for myself, and that I know a lot about social media, because if that reporter had done that to me… well, let’s just say he’d have been famous for a different reason than writing for the Syracuse New Times.

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    1. Phil

      Thanks Mitch. Yeah, sometimes my flippant attitude gets in the way of discussion. I did learn the lesson of FB non-privacy though. Now, every time I am about to post something I just remember the famous words of Aretha Franklin: “you better think . . .”

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