Aspiring writers frequently ask me about the secret to my success. Most of them seem shocked by my answer. I won’t keep you in suspense by making you read an entire blog post before I make the big reveal. The secret to this writer’s success is her mom.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. My mama. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve likely heard me mention her influence on my life more than once. She’s an awesome woman (and I’m not just saying that cause she’s my mom). It’s not shocking to those who know my mom why I give her so much credit. She’s earned it.
Long before there were life coaches, there was my mom. She’s been my number-one cheerleader my entire life. Having her in my corner has made everything I’ve accomplished possible. This is the story of our journey.
Gripping a pencil – and my future
Since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hands, I knew I wanted to be a writer. There was something indescribable about the feeling it gave me. To this day, I struggle to find the right words to capture the awe I felt (which is saying something for a professional writer).
My mom was the one who helped me discover my love of writing through her eagerness to teach me before my kindergarten years began. It’s one of the clearest memories I have from my early childhood. She would patiently draw letters for me to trace and correct how I held my pencil when experimenting with my grip.
Once I learned how to write, I couldn’t stop. I would trace letters, write my name, and practice the words I knew. To this day, I still prefer the feel of a pen or pencil in my hands to a keyboard when writing. I’ve written entire novels by hand. Don’t get me wrong. I like technology. Still, it’ll never replace how I feel when cranking out inspirational thoughts by hand.
My Kingdom for a squirrel
Between the ages of 10 and 13, I spent a lot of time in my backyard. Fellow Gen-Xers won’t find this astonishing because that’s just what we did when we were kids. However, one of my favorite activities while outside was making up stories about the things I observed. I made up an entire adventure series about a squirrel that lived in our giant oak tree.
No matter what I created, my mom oohed and ahhed about it. Every time she congratulated my work, she gave me the encouragement I needed to keep writing. The more I wrote, the better I became at my craft. By the time I was in high school, I was taking journalism classes and advanced writing courses intending to make writing my lifelong ambition.
Lots of people told me I was foolish for thinking I could make a living as a writer. Not my mom. She taught me to follow my heart. All my heart wanted back then – and still to this day – was to write.
Just a writer in training
When it was time to go off to college, there was little doubt about my major. It had to be something about writing. The more I looked at writing careers, the more depressed I became. Our friends over at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) informed me that employment opportunities for writers weren’t all that great.
I’m a stubborn gal, so I didn’t want to hear it. My life was going to include writing, and that was that. After much consideration, I settled on journalism. I’d dabbled in the craft during high school, serving as the editor of our high school newspaper, the Blue and White Star.
I knew that I’d at least have a chance of earning a living as a journalist once I graduated. Back then, digital media outlets weren’t as popular as they are today, so lots of print newspapers and publications were thriving. My other option was advertising, but I wasn’t exactly a fan of that style of writing back then (oh how times have changed).
Questioning all my life choices
College was hard for many reasons. One of them was that I had to work full time and go to school full time to pay for it (that’s a much longer story). Let’s just say I don’t advise following that plan unless you have no alternatives.
I had a journalism professor who worked in the business for 20 years before he became a teacher. He was hard on me – even made me question my career choice more than a few times. It was my mom who encouraged me to keep pushing through every time I said that maybe he was right, and I wasn’t cut out to be a journalist.
If it wasn’t for my mom reminding me that I’m a stubborn woman who doesn’t give up easily, I probably would have switched majors and ended up miserable. My career hasn’t always been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Making more moolah at Bob Evans
Working as a waitress at Bob Evans was how I put myself through college. As fun as it was, it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life. I was so excited when I got my first real job offer from a newspaper about six months after graduation. It was with a small Central Pennsylvania newspaper reporting on the education and political beats.
My excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I realized I could make more money continuing to work at Bob Evans than as a reporter. My mom reminded me we all had to start somewhere, so I sucked it up and made the move. After a year there, I had a better offer at another newspaper closer to my hometown. Up the career ladder I went.
I would spend the next decade working as an education reporter before getting married and starting a family. It was then that I shifted from being someone’s employee to being my own boss with the launch of The Write Reflection™. Working for yourself is hard, y’all. Once again, I had my personal cheerleader in my corner, rah-rahing me on.
The once and future writer
I’ve done many things since I first graduated from college. I’ve worked as a reporter, in public relations and marketing, and now as an SEO copywriter and content writer for clients all over the world. Heck, I’m a published author (something I never thought would happen). I still dabble in PR and marketing for the right clients but prefer any prospect that lets me put pen to paper. Every one of these opportunities has capitalized on my formal college training and love of writing.
A few months ago, my mom reminded me there was a time when I thought I had wasted my life and my hard-earned money in college. She’s not wrong. No matter how many times she tells me how proud she is of how far I’ve come, I’ve often wondered if I made a huge mistake.
One thing I know for sure is I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my number-one cheerleader. My mom didn’t grow up with the same advantages that I did. She didn’t have the financial resources to go to college. She worked hard and built herself up, finding success despite the many challenges she faced. It's not an exaggeration to say she's my hero.
Every time I’ve felt like giving up along my journey, she’s reminded me that quitting isn’t an option. I am the strong, successful woman you see today because of my mom’s sacrifices and never-ending encouragement. I can only hope I’m half the mom to my son that she’s been to me.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom! I love you!
As a communications professional and mother of an autistic child, I often am asked how to talk to a neurodiverse person. Let me assure you, I’m not an expert in this field. Just because I have a child on the spectrum and a degree in communications doesn’t make me an all-knowing spokesperson for neurodiverse people.
Honestly, I consider it disrespectful to speak as if I have any deep understanding of what it’s like to be neurodiverse in a world that’s less than accommodating to differences. What I can do is share what I’ve learned from 16 years of living with and loving an amazing autistic person. He’s promised to fact-check everything I write, so you can be assured it’s been reviewed by a knowledgeable source.
Joining me is Kelly Metzger, the mother of my son’s best friend (who also happens to be on the spectrum). In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, we’re going to get candid with what we wish other people knew about communicating with our kids.
Say what you mean to say
“When you speak to someone who is neurologically different, say what you mean and mean what you say,” suggests Ms. Metzger. “You don’t need to offer funny puns or flowery metaphors. You don’t need hyperbolic language or dramatizations. Use relevant wording to convey what it is you want or need or is important to communicate in that moment.”
I concur with this tip 100 percent. Honestly, this is good advice when speaking with anyone, not just neurodiverse people. We’re all busy. Don’t waste someone’s time. As my journalism advisor always used to say, “keep it simple.”
Don’t be sarcastic
Sarcasm can be funny to some people. Oh, the irony of a humorous dig. For others, sarcasm can be confusing, and it stings. “When someone can only grasp concrete language, trying to be comical at someone else’s expense just comes across as mean, particularly if the sarcasm is used in a group and the neurodivergent person doesn’t understand,” said Ms. Metzger. “Now they have become someone to laugh at in addition to the sarcastic remark.”
This is something I struggle with personally. Anyone who knows me knows that sarcasm is my love language. Thankfully, my son not only gets my sarcastic nature, but he also has learned to engage in the behavior himself. I know I can joke with him because I am confident that he understands my irony. When I’m talking to someone for the first time – especially if I know they’re neurodivergent – I keep my quips in check.
Practice some patience
I’ve gotten used to not being answered the first, second, and sometimes 53rd time I’ve asked a question in my house. Like Thomas the Tank Engine says, “patience is a virtue.” That’s certainly been true when communicating with my son. He may not respond as quickly as I’d like, but eventually, he processes my request and answers.
“Communication is a challenging skill,” said Ms. Metzger. “How many times have you gotten into an argument or disagreement because of a simple lack of effective communication?” She’s not wrong. According to the science guys, a lack of communication skills is a leading cause of arguments within relationships.
Since our brains all fire at different speeds, give people the time they need to respond to you. Likewise, if an answer flies out quickly that completely misses the mark, try again. Patience is key when communicating with anyone.
Allow for Q&A time
Repeating a question back to someone not only lets them know you’ve heard them, but it also may be needed for clarification. Using questions as a teaching tool is highly effective. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the person is being rude by asking you to repeat yourself, understand that they may need additional clarification to process your request.
“This ensures there won’t be any confusion,” said Ms. Metzger. “This is useful in every form of communication because it leaves out room for grey areas and potential contention.”
Be willing to explain again
When communicating with a neurodivergent person, show them grace. That’s a good rule of thumb when talking to anyone. If the person doesn’t appear to understand, explain again. Find a different way to express yourself, because maybe you’re not being as clear as you think. Or, maybe it’s a topic you assume the other person knows as well as you, but they don’t. They may need some precursory information before they can engage in a meaningful discussion.
Sometimes people view this as the other person being disinterested in what they’re saying. Step back for a minute. Don’t assume the world revolves around you. If you truly want to communicate with the person, you’ll be willing to explain as many times as it takes for them to understand your point.
I must admit I struggle with this one myself. I have an autistic adult in my life who frequently responds to my conversation starters with, “Pardon?” Yes, it can be annoying. But getting past my own ego and being willing to repeat myself until he’s heard me is worth the effort.
Put on your listening ears
Communication is a two-way street. Otherwise, it’s just a monologue. Remember when we suggested that sometimes neurodivergent people need a moment to process what you’ve said before they respond? Part of respecting their communication style means allowing them the time they need to express themselves (and making sure your listening ears are on when they do).
“When your brain is wired differently, you see the world from a different perspective,” said Ms. Metzger. “(Neurodivergent people) can offer valuable insight your neurotypical brain just hadn’t thought of. If you don’t understand what they’re trying to communicate, ask questions and seek clarification.”
Understand that behavior is communication
Oh, the stories I could tell of all the times well-meaning people approached me when my son was younger (and having sensory overload in public) with their helpful suggestions for curbing his behavior. I could probably write a novel. Talk to any parent of a neurodivergent child and they likely have similar stories.
What so many people don’t understand is that behavior is communication. Behavior is an essential communication tool for someone who is non-verbal. When my son was young and still struggling to speak, his behavior was his way of telling me when he was overstimulated or when he needed or wanted something. I understood it for what it was and would never have punished him for communicating with me the only way he knew how. To strangers, they just assumed my son needed a good spanking (and some didn’t mind telling me their opinions about it). It was exhausting educating ignorant people about my son’s communication preferences.
“It’s important to realize that behavior is a valid form of communication, just as body language is and words are,” said Samantha Supernaw, a licensed clinical social worker with Heart and Head Healing. “When working with clients, sometimes I need to help them to better understand other people’s behavior to better communicate themselves.”
You must learn to listen with your eyes and your gut instead of your ears, added Ms. Metzger. “Watch how they move through the world. Get to know what triggers them, what brings them joy. And talk to them. Just because they can’t vocalize with words doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear or can’t understand what you have to say.”
Don’t infantilize them
Don’t ever talk about someone in front of them as if they can’t hear or understand you. This is an ongoing problem across the disability spectrum, not just with neurodivergent people. “There is nothing worse than having someone talk to an adult who has limited communicative verbal skills and be spoken to as though they are in preschool,” said Ms. Metzgar. “Just because expressive language is lacking doesn’t mean receptive language is as well.”
Don’t invalidate their perspective
I hate to break it to you, but you’re not the authority on everything. Remind yourself of that when communicating with other people. The old ego can creep out when some folks realize they’re talking to a neurodivergent person. They somehow decide they’re “less than” and mustn’t have a clue about anything. Let me assure you that if you think like that, you’re wrong (and quite possibly a jagoff).
Effective communication means trying to understand the other person’s perspective, even if it differs from yours. “Everyone is different,” said Ms. Metzger. “Every mind, every experience, every life. The way we walk through the world lends itself to how we view ourselves and the world around us. Each and every perspective is valid and worthwhile.”
Don’t be an asshole
I said what I said, and Ms. Metzger wholeheartedly agrees with the sentiment. There’s no point beating around the bush, either. Being clear and concise, after all, is an effective communication strategy.
When someone already is marginalized because the world has deemed them to be different, they don’t need you to take your sour self out on them to boot. If you’re in a mood, avoid human interaction. If you don’t understand neurodiversity, educate yourself. What’s not acceptable is to be anything less than kind to another human being. Life is short. Don’t be an asshole.
Go talk to a neurodiverse person today
Talking to a neurodiverse person isn’t difficult. I do it every day and am richer for the experience. Can it require a little more patience and kindness? Yes. Might you have to be willing to see someone else’s perspective, even if it differs from yours? Absofreakinglutely. But you know what? I promise it’s worth the effort and it will make you a better communicator.
Unconscious bias is normal. Read that again, then sit with it for a while. It can be quite a shock if you think you’re the kind of person who loves and accepts everyone.
How many times have you said you’re not biased? I know I’ve said it many times because, in my heart of hearts, I truly believe it. Guess what? I’m wrong. So are any of you who think you’re unprejudiced. Unconscious bias is normal and unavoidable. The reality of that statement hit me like a ton of bricks when confronted with it during a recent Unconscious Bias presentation from the amazingly gifted Cassandra Cooper.
Ms. Cooper is the manager of the UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion. It’s quite literally her job to help employees of this Western PA healthcare giant embrace and value diversity, equity, and inclusion. Families in the Pine Richland School District were fortunate enough to have her join us for an evening of education and sharing important truths. I attended with my 16-year-old son, and neither of us regretted the decision.
Her workshop included the following objectives:
As a professional communicator, I knew this workshop was a must. I can’t be effective in my job if I am unwilling to tackle obstacles that can impede my progress. I wasn’t disappointed. I want to share with my readers the truths I learned because I believe tackling our unconscious biases makes us all better human beings. Prepare yourself for one of the most candid blogs I’ve ever written.
What the heck is unconscious bias?
Brains work in mysterious ways. One of the things your brain does involves registering unconscious biases and acting on them without so much as asking you first. That’s great, but what the heck is an unconscious bias?
According to our wordy friend the dictionary, unconscious bias includes thoughts, feelings, or beliefs that you’re unaware of that influence your judgment. Your brain takes in 11 million bits of information every second. Of those millions of pieces of data, it can only process three or four things. Appearance is one of them.
That’s why it’s scary to learn it takes your brain less than 30 seconds to register an opinion about someone based solely on how they look. “We all have these unconscious biases,” said Ms. Cooper during her recent presentation. “It’s a human thing.”
Not all unconscious biases are unfavorable. Let me give you an example. Say you meet a group of people for the first time at a social event. These new folks look, talk, and act like you. Unconsciously, your brain registers that it’s OK to feel safe around them. That’s still bias, even if it’s favorable to the people with whom you’re interacting.
How do people form biases?
Now that you know what unconscious biases are, how do you form them? According to Ms. Cooper, our inner judgy-pants form biases based on several factors:
When do biases start?
For most people, biases form at a very young age. They’re rooted in characteristics or preferences and even in our upbringing. Let’s say you’re raised in a home where racism is openly celebrated. Racial jokes are commonplace, and you’re fed daily with the notion that people of color are somehow less than you because of the color of their skin. Hearing unfair judgments like that can skew your view of Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color (BIPOC) later in life.
I grew up in very white, very rural America. The only BIPOC I encountered when I was young was the foreign exchange students my school rarely hosted, and the Fresh Air Fund kid my neighbors took in for a few summers from Puerto Rico. Other than that, I was ignorant of the reality that everyone did not look, think, and act like me.
That all changed when I enrolled in college. I was surrounded by people who challenged my unconscious biases and introduced me to a whole new world. I had a lot of uncomfortable interactions, but I confronted them and grew from them. I couldn’t help how I grew up, but I had complete control over whether I chose to expand my horizons.
What’s the science behind unconscious biases?
The good news is if you have unconscious biases, you’re normal. “We see people who are different than us as a threat,” said Ms. Cooper. “We gravitate toward what we know. We fear what is different.” Whether real or perceived, we all have triggers that make us more susceptible to unconscious bias, she said.
Your background plus your life experiences equal your story. To understand the science behind unconscious biases, you must first recognize how your story impacts the way you see things, said Ms. Cooper.
Once you have a handle on your story, only then can you start the difficult task of managing your behavior.
When do my biases sneak out?
It’s different for everyone. For me, it happens every time I’m faced with the difficult decision of getting on an elevator alone with a man I don’t know. Weird, right? Maybe some of the other women reading this are shaking their heads and saying, “Yes, ma’am, right there with you on that one!”
What might seem like a commonsense safety decision can be an unconscious bias. Sure, women can and do need to worry about their safety (because that’s just the world we live in). Is it fair to assume every man we encounter is a threat? Nope. Some lovely gentlemen in the world would never think of harming any woman. Yet, I toss them right into that same category with all men who dare get onto an elevator with me while I’m alone.
Why? From a very young age, it’s drilled into women’s heads to automatically mistrust any man they don’t know. Heck, I’m trained in Eagle Claw Kung Fu. Technically you should fear me, not the other way around. Still, every time I get on an elevator with a man I don’t know, my brain kicks into survival mode. It’s that unconscious bias sneaking out.
Take a few minutes and think about how you act in certain situations. If we’re all honest about it, we can identify at least one area where our unconscious biases have snuck out and controlled how we’ve handled a situation. Right or wrong, it happens, and we must own it.
Letting it all hang out
I’m very aware of my unconscious bias toward strange men, so kudos to me for knowing it’s a problem. “Being able to admit you have biases and openly discussing them is the first step toward managing them,” said Ms. Cooper. “We have to be able to talk about it because it’s real.”
Ms. Cooper was very candid about her unconscious biases during her presentation. Her willingness to share her struggles made others more comfortable having an open dialogue about theirs.
“I thought the most powerful thing Cassie did last night was share her own biases, as it normalizes talking about them and reduces guilt and shame about talking about them,” said Dr. Allison Bashe, a Pine Richland parent (and licensed psychologist) who attended the workshop. “I also think it’s important to be aware of and name our own identities in both minority and majority statuses, as I think this complements the work on unconscious biases.”
Honest conversations with our youth
I mentioned earlier that my 16-year-old son attended the workshop with me. He didn’t have to come. As any of you with teenagers know, they have things to do and places to be (that do not involve hanging out with their lame-o parents). I am grateful my son chose to spend 90 minutes of his life listening to Ms. Cooper. Her presentation sparked an interesting discussion between us on the way home.
My son is autistic. Diagnosed at age 3, he’s spent his entire life navigating the world of the neurotypical. Every therapy he’s had was designed to force him to assimilate to what society deems normalcy to be accepted. I’ve always thought it was a crock of horse manure, but that’s a blog rant for another time.
My son has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). All sorts of things get put into this plan, including a long history of his perceived behaviors by educators he’s encountered during his public education journey. Imagine what it would be like if everything you ever said or did was documented and presented to every person as part of your formal introduction. Let’s be frank: it would suck.
Reading about things my son has done over the years out of frustration because of his communication deficits from autism has unfairly biased people against him. I’ve had many conversations with teachers shocked at how intelligent and attentive my son is because “that’s not what his IEP says about him.” Once they took the time to get to know my son, they realized he presents quite differently than his IEP suggests.
My son and I had a very poignant, yet painful, discussion last night about how his disability triggers unconscious biases in others. It helped him realize that if people can unfairly judge him based on his autism, they can do the same to others simply because their skin color or gender identity differs from theirs. It’s a hard lesson for kids to learn, but one that shouldn’t be avoided. “Diversity exists, so we must help our kids navigate it,” said Ms. Cooper.
How do you control your biases?
Sadly, some people don’t. I’m sure we can all think of a time or two when we’ve encountered that person. You know the one I mean. They are loud and proud about their biases – race, gender, gender identity to name a few – and make zero effort to control them.
If you’re like me, and you give two figs about not coming off like a bigoted and mean-spirited jagoff, there are things you can do to get your biases in check. Being aware of your unconscious biases is the first step to controlling them.
“The world is no longer black and white, it’s evolving,” said Ms. Cooper. “Differences are uniquenesses, not deficits. It all comes down to who we want to be. Everyone is treated with dignity and respect. That’s who we want to be.”
Ms. Cooper used a groundbreaking commercial from beer giant Heineken, aptly titled “Worlds Apart.” If you’ve never seen it, I highly suggest watching it. In just 4 minutes and 25 seconds, it perfectly depicts the hard work you and I must do if we’re serious about dragging our unconscious biases into the light of day.
Only openness, not shaming
Having tough conversations is a contributing factor in managing our unconscious biases, said Ms. Cooper. “I like to say that we need to be comfortable at times being uncomfortable. Being able to talk about these things means growth. Valuing, supporting, and appreciating differences is the way to move forward, not pretending that they don’t exist.”
Ms. Cooper said the key to confronting our own and others’ biases is being willing to do the “heart work” necessary to explore the roots of the behavior. Part of that involves creating a safe space where everyone feels comfortable sharing their beliefs and perceptions without judgment.
Parents who attended the workshop agreed on the concept of creating a safe space for sharing as part of moving forward with the hard work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “It’s really important not to attack or shame someone for sharing their biases, even when shared unintentionally or without knowledge of it being a bias, as I think it limits our ability to educate,” said Dr. Bashe. “In fact, I would meet this by sharing a bias we have to normalize it further. It helps no one if people are afraid to share these.”
How do you assess your unconscious biases?
Thankfully, Project Implicit makes it super easy to assess your unconscious biases with this insightful Implicit Association Test (IAT). Remember when I said earlier that I believe myself to be unbiased. Yeah, no. The IAT would have some strong arguments against my assertion.
I already told you about my propensity for judging strange men in elevators. Apparently, my unconscious biases go beyond that weird fear. I was happy to discover my results indicate I have no automatic preference between Black people and White people. I still have some work to do in other areas and am prepared to have the hard conversations needed.
There are 15 different IAT test categories from which to choose. You can take them all or just the ones where you might be concerned you have hidden biases lurking.
Some other things you can do to assess and address your unconscious biases include:
It all started innocently enough. A little boy calling his horse from the pasture. It’s something that happens several times a day, according to West Virginia mom Melina Oliver. Last week, she decided to record the interaction to send to her out-of-state grandparents so they could enjoy the experience with her.
She also thought it would be a fun video to share on her TikTok page, @maple_nala. Mrs. Oliver started the page to share the cute and funny clips about her 7-year-old Paint, Maple, and her 5-year-old Golden Retriever, Nala.
Little did she know the perfect recipe for going TikTok viral was to feature her son, Kolten, calling Maple to come to see him. “MayMay, come!” he says excitedly in the video. MayMay is his nickname for the horse. As you can see in the video, she knows exactly who he’s talking to when he says it.
Kolten isn’t the only one happy to see his buddy. Maple responds to his command with a giddy neigh, bucks a few times from sheer joy, and heads up the pasture to meet her favorite little person. Watching the video made the hearts of many of Mrs. Oliver’s TikTok followers melt. Many requested to see more clips of this cute love story between a boy and his horse.
TikTok user Osana Sutton commented, “Love how the horse did a little dance before running to favorite human.” Another TikTok commenter, @Elizabeth, agreed. “The horse’s excitement melted our hearts,” she said.
Cuteness Overload Goes TikTok Viral
As of 9:42 a.m. on March 19, the video has 6.2 million views, 671,800 likes, and 3,684 comments. According to Mrs. Oliver, the video hit 1 million views just 9.5 hours after she posted it on March 17. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It was just a typical everyday type thing that Maple and Kolten do that I happened to record to share with my grandparents. Posting it on TikTok was an afterthought. I never imagined it would go viral, let alone have millions of views. I’m stunned.”
Mrs. Oliver started the TikTok account for her horse and dog in January on a whim. She said both make her laugh regularly with their antics, and she thought others might find them funny. What she never expected was for one of her videos to go viral. TikTok considers any video with more than 500,000 likes viral on its platform.
When choosing what to feature, she said she explores what’s trending on TikTok to see if she can use it in some way with her dog and horse. Sometimes it involves using funny sounds or music that may be popular. Other times, she comes up with her own playbook for creating engaging videos.
Since her followers have requested it, Mrs. Oliver said she plans to feature more videos with her son and horse. “I may toss in clips with my dog, Nala, and Maple once in a while, but I’ll definitely give Maple and Kolten’s fans what they want to see.”
Shoveling Horse Poo Amid TikTok Fame
As for how she plans to use her newfound TikTok fame, Mrs. Oliver – who was appropriately cleaning Maple’s stall during our interview – said she won’t let it go to her head. She wouldn’t say no to some sponsorships for her page if any equestrian product manufacturers or other companies are interested. Who wouldn’t want to have these two cuties peddling their products? (hint, hint)
Mrs. Oliver said, for now, she plans to go back to her chores around the farm, capturing moments between her son and horse whenever they present themselves. Whether any more of her videos go viral remains to be seen. The content pros at The Write Reflection are willing to bet on this adorable duo continuing to attract likes and follows.
I’ll never forget the day it happened. It truly was one of the longest days of my life. What could possibly feel like an eternity, you ask? Well, I was put in Facebook jail. That’s right, my friends. I’m a Facebook felon. You want to know why? I commented publicly in a group that someone should be careful they didn’t get “slapped with a lawsuit.” Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, I quickly found myself incarcerated for 24 hours. The charge? Threatening violence against another user. No, really. If you’re on the floor laughing so hard you think you might pee your pants, I don’t blame you. It’s rather amusing. At least, that is, until it happens to you.
For a full day, I could do nothing except longingly stare at all the fun and informative content posted by friends and colleagues. No engagement allowed. I couldn’t post to my Facebook feed for my own business or that of any of my clients whose social media pages I manage. Appealing to Facebook was a no-go. I received a swift response warning me that if I persisted in objecting to their harsh sentence, I would be permanently banned. I wasn’t sure whether I was amused or irritated by the whole situation. As I hear more and more stories of people landing in Facebook jail, I think it’s safe to say my feelings lean more toward outrage now. Here’s why.
Facebook jail offenses
So, how does one spin the wheel and win the prize of landing in Facebook jail? It’s called artificial intelligence, my friends (although I’m pretty sure there isn’t much intelligence happening with these AI bots). By its own admission, Team Zuck uses AI to identify what it considers “objectionable content.” These overzealous bots use Facebook’s internal enforcement guidelines to search for content in seven areas:
The AI bots that constantly crawl the site use their newfound knowledge to identify posts that violate terms of service (TOS). I could get behind the movement if it weren’t for the fact that Facebook’s AI bots have a lot of trouble with context. Therein lies 99.99 percent of the problem of ending up in Facebook jail without the possibility of parole.
What happens in Facebook jail?
Well, for starters, you can’t comment or like any posts. Doesn’t matter how awesome the content is or who posted it, once you’re in Facebook jail, you’re done interacting until your sentence expires. If it’s your first offense, you’re most likely facing a 24-hour ban from the platform.
Once sentenced by Facebook’s AI bots, you also won’t be able to:
Basically, my friends, you can look at Facebook and that’s about it. You’ll have to wait until you get out on parole before you can do anything fun again. If you try to reason with Facebook about your sentence, you’ll only prolong it. Trust me on that one.
It's the context, silly Facebook bots
It’s clear to anyone who’s been paying attention that Facebook’s AI works off a list of trigger words. If you have the misfortune of using any one of these words in an otherwise innocent, non-threatening statement on the platform, you risk a Facebook jail sentence. I alluded earlier to the time I said “slapped with a lawsuit” during a discussion and was put in Facebook jail for threatening violence. A former colleague of mine recently shared a cell with other users for daring to say she “punched the clock” at work. You and I know that she meant she clocked in for her shift at work. We’re humans. We get context and slang phrases. Facebook’s AI bots definitively decided she must have physically assaulted an inanimate object. Oi.
Good communicators know that language requires context to be understood by both the speaker and the listener. Humans are superior to AI bots in this skill. We know how to listen to the rest of the words in the sentence before judging the speaker’s intent. In the case of my Facebook jailing, all the AI bots recognized was the word “slapped,” and assumed I meant the term in a violent way. As my college journalism professor often espoused, “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”
AI bots can do many things but understanding the intent of our words doesn’t appear to be one of them. It’s one of the many reasons why I don’t panic about all these AI writing software programs that claim they can replace a traditional copywriter.
English is a violent language
I know what you must be thinking. Shari, just avoid using words that Facebook’s AI bots might flag as violent. You would think it would be that simple but I’m here to tell you that it’s not, my friend. I’ve never realized how many words in the English language could be construed as violent before my trip to Facebook jail. (When you can’t play on social media, you entertain yourself in other ways). Here are just a few of the many intense words Facebook might flag (or has flagged), plus the common ways we use them in everyday language.
Our wordy friend the dictionary defines bloodshed as “the killing or wounding of people, typically on a large scale during a conflict.”
Yep, that’s violent, alright. Unless, of course, you say something like, “I just heard some songs by Bloodshed and had no clue he was such an awesome rapper. Too bad he’s dead.” I bet you dollars to doughnuts Facebook would ding you for that one, even though you’re talking about a musician, not committing actual carnage.
Hit me (with your best shot)
If you suddenly have Pat Benatar’s iconic tune stuck in your head, my apologies. I needed to use this phrase to illustrate yet another time Facebook’s AI bots dinged me for violent language. I asked some of the copywriters in a professional networking group to which I belong to provide feedback on some language I wanted to use in a campaign ad for a client. I ended my request by saying, “Don’t be shy, I’m not easily offended. Hit me with your best shot.”
They gave me great advice, alright. I just couldn’t thank them for it for 24 hours because – you guessed it – I was back in Facebook jail.
“I totally killed it today on the basketball court!” Did you now, my friend? Well, don’t be telling anyone about it on Facebook. You know why? Because those pesky AI bots will slap on the proverbial handcuffs and escort you right into Facebook jail. No, really. One of my friends made the mistake of bragging about his baller skills in a post on another friend’s Facebook wall. Before long, he was texting to tell me Facebook reprimanded him for threatening violence against another user and gave him a 24-hour timeout to think about what he’d done.
“I took a slapshot at the goalie and scored!” My husband loudly proclaimed upon returning from his adult league hockey game one morning. I was just logging into Facebook and told him not to say it too loudly for fear the bots would come to drag us both off to Facebook jail. I was only sort of joking. Just the day before, another colleague exuberantly exclaimed “Slap me silly, Sidney!” when talking about a recent score Pittsburgh Penguins’ star player Sidney Crosby had made the night before against state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. Anyone who follows hockey knows that’s a famous phrase uttered by sports reporting icon Mike Lange any time Crosby scores an amazing goal.
Apparently, the Facebook AI bots aren’t hockey fans. My friend ended up in Facebook jail a few hours later. His crime? Inciting violence. No, really. Try not to roll your eyes hard enough to give yourself a concussion on this one.
Outsmarting the Facebook jail guards