James Faulkner teaches us all yet again: Think before you post

There are unintended consequences of Australian Cricketer James Faulkner’s gay/not gay social media ‘outing’.

Today the world woke to what looked like an amazing news story of a public figure making a brave statement to the world — Australian cricketer James Faulkner posted a happy image on his Insta feed, which, on face value, indicated he was in a happy long-term same-sex relationship.

Just look at the post — ‘boyfriend’, ‘#togetherfor5years’ and a scattering of emoji love hearts.

Pretty difficult to interpret this as anything but what it appears.

The many replies to the post were testament to how eager the non-straight community is for high-profile figures to be out and proud about their sexuality, with many expressing how they were filled with joy that another small wall had been broken down between the ‘them and us’ mentality around sexuality but in particular in the heavily closeted world of male professional sport.

No doubt some were thinking how this could mean that other great sportspeople would not have to wait years post retirement before coming out as we saw with Ian Roberts and Ian Thorpe, and that others might follow Faulkner, acting as positive role models for gay men and women to be bold and brave with their own sexuality.

But no.

The post was a ‘joke’.

Not one intended to harm, but rather an innocent LOLZ from James.

A friend was quick to point that it had been taken out of context, saying that when he himself, ‘a nobody’ compared to Faulkner, posts similarly jokey bromance/husband comments, they are laughed off.

Which of course they would because the world who sees these posts are his circle and thus understand the context.

The story blew up and was reported globally, with a plethora of media organisations posting it without follow up: the classic journalistic mistake yet to be expected in a world where getting the breaking story out first is imperative to increase hits on site and chase dwindling revenue.

Faulkner and Cricket Australia went into immediate damage control, managing the message reasonably well:

“James and CA are supportive of the LGBQTI community and recognise coming out can be an incredibly emotional time. The post was not in any way meant to make light of this and, though the support from the community was overwhelming and positive, Cricket Australia apologises for any unintended offence.”

A storm of criticism mostly aimed at the media followed, blaming them for blowing this into something it wasn’t. However, much-respected SEN Radio host Gerard Whateley perhaps best scotched this criticism when he simply stated that why wouldn’t the post be taken on face value when Faulkner posting on his own feed is effectively a primary source, usually enough for any journalist to report from.

How will this play out?

Some good, some not-so can be taken in equal measure from Faulkner’s misstep.

On the positive side, the groundswell of support he received was encouraging — despite the usual yawn-full trolls who loitered amongst the responses, generally people were excited and happy that Faulkner had the courage to come out. This hopefully means when a current notable identity wants to be open about their sexuality, it will be greeted with open arms.

However, the unintended consequences of this being revealed as a joke lies in the crushed souls momentarily elevated by the revelation, now sent scuttling back into the shadows of their sexuality.

Even worse, the smattering who may have used it as their own moment to out themselves to someone and now find themselves exposed — something that should not be a worry in our supposedly modern world but which can still be weaponised against individuals in their workplaces, churches, families and broader personal lives.

I doubt anyone believes Faulkner did this mischievously.

And neither would anyone doubt his contrition or the truth of the positive spin he and Cricket Australia wheeled out in the aftermath.

But the difference is that James can go back to his ‘straight’ life without consequence. Back to the safe world of his husbandly bromance with ‘Rob’, to his family and friends and career, protected by the sanctity of his heterosexuality.

For the many others who saw this as shining breakthrough that might make their lives a little more easier, it means the wait continues for a time when posts like Faulkner’s aren’t news.

Where sexuality doesn’t matter.

Where misunderstandings like this don’t happen.

In the meantime, the lesson for James and all of us is that social media is an open forum without context, and we must think before we post to avoid the unintended consequences such brings.

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