Avoid Creating Offensive Content Using These Tips

Technology brings about change. New technologies and the wider availability of technology pushed the world to become increasingly interconnected.

As humans have moved forward digitally, culture has also shifted. More specifically, there has been a shift in what behaviors and words are acceptable, especially in 2020. This is a great conversation to have right now as the Black Lives Matter movement pushes on during Pride Month.

A friend of mine and I were talking about the change in public discourse recently, and he introduced me to the concept of the Overton window, also known as the window of discourse.

What is the window of discourse? It refers to the range of ideas that are tolerated in public conversation.

This window includes the range of subjects that are considered acceptable in the current political and social landscape.

As you create content, you must keep this shift in mind. The window of discourse has shifted a lot in the past few years, and you need to be careful what you say, write, and portray in your content.

So, what should you watch out for?

Read the News

Learn what is a hot topic and what is not. Ensure that your language follows accordingly.

Take, for instance, the word alternative.  That used to be a fine word to use to discuss an opposing side.

But a few years ago, alternative news became associated with “fake news” and that word is no longer a good choice.

Also, keep in mind that current events shape what you can and should talk about.

Off-color, racist, or misogynistic remarks should have always been avoided. Keep yourself updated on the language being used in the current movements to ensure you aren’t accidentally offending due to any privileges you may hold.

Consider Your Pronouns

Society has changed what it defines as gender and this means brands should tread carefully.

If your content includes gender pronouns like he or she, consider shifting your pronoun usage. Most content doesn’t need to be gendered.

A ridiculously easy way to do this when addressing an audience is to write in the second person.

“You” is gender-neutral.

If you do want to write in the third person, either adopt the pronouns a person uses for themselves, or go with a gender-neutral option if there’s no specific subject.

That means using “they/them” instead of “he”/”she.” This is more inclusive and will show that your brand is aware of these societal shifts.

Don’t Jab at Others

Right or wrong, it used to fall into the window of discourse when people made jokes at the expense of individuals or groups of people. That is no longer the case.

When you make jokes or use idioms, be certain that you aren’t targeting anyone. You may not even realize you do this. I recommend reading some lists of racist idioms to ensure that you avoid saying anything inappropriate.

That’s why having multiple sets of eyes on your work at all times is so important. Sometimes, you won’t be able to tell if you’ve made a potentially offensive remark, but a third party might be able to.

Make Someone Responsible for Review

Ensure someone is watching your content and is the final word in what falls into the window of discourse, and what lands outside of it. You don’t want to lose money on something because you made a casual misstep.

H&M faced backlash several years ago, when they released what, at first glance, seemed to be a fairly innocuous product advertisement, which featured a Black child wearing a monkey hoodie.

This is the tweet that triggered the backlash.


This could have been avoided if someone at H&M had looked at the campaign with a critical eye. Someone on your team (preferably someone who keeps up with the news) should always be watching to ensure that even seemingly innocent mistakes like this don’t get overlooked.

Taking Sides is Risky Business  

If it’s a subject that’s highly political or controversial, be wary of taking a side in your content. Especially in B2B. In B2C it is sometimes acceptable to take sides but know that it risks business.

You don’t need to know the political leans of your customers in B2B, because you are all at work and the problems that you solve likely have nothing to do with politics.

This is not always the case. If you discover that a massive chunk of your audience sways to the left, then maybe it’s time to write content that caters to that side. Or perhaps something is potentially inflammatory, but important and relevant and in today’s conversations. In the case of something like the Black Lives Matter movement, you are taking a side by not taking one. Consider how you can add value to these conversations while staying within the scope of your brand.

When determining if you should “take a side,” ask yourself:

  • What will I gain by taking sides on this issue?
  • What could I lose from taking sides on this issue?
  • Is the cost-benefit analysis worth it?

And remember, before you decide to take the leap, have someone review your content to ensure it won’t completely annihilate your brand’s reputation.

In some cases, even if your target audience likes this departure from the window of discourse, you run the risk of it being at the center of the latest viral controversy. They say any publicity is good publicity but be mindful of how public opinion will affect your business. Don’t be racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, etc. Better yet, be against those things publicly. That is the only way to lean going forward.

In summary, the window of discourse has changed massively in the last 5 to 10 years. In 2020 alone, the discourse has been rapidly shifting. This means brands have to be even more careful to ensure their content falls into this window of what is acceptable.  At this point, being anti-racist is not just acceptable, it is encouraged. How can you make that part of your conversations? How can you make your organization reflect those values?

Follow the tips in today’s post: read the news, be sensitive to the needs and wants of others, make someone responsible for reviewing content through a socially appropriate lens, and weigh the cost of creating controversial content.

If you follow those guidelines, your brand shouldn’t end up being the trigger of the next viral outrage.


Let us know what you think: 

  • Have you adopted current conversations into your content?
  • Is your content gendered?
  • How can you wield your brand’s platform to add value to current conversations? 



Related Posts

Leave a comment

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.