What It’s Like to Go Viral for ‘Owning’ Your Husband in the New York Times

The comments.
Photo: New York Times

Stu Watson, 68, is no stranger to seeing his New York Times comments gain traction — he’s been a New York Times “Pick” more than a couple of times. But on March 7, his remark under a story about Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to prioritize Facebook users’ privacy garnered more attention than usual, all because of another user who teased him: his wife, Kathy.

In the comment section, Stu bewailed Facebook’s popularity, pondering why he should join Facebook “to essentially re-create what I already had with email, as well as why people broadcast “the minutiae of [their] life.” Kathy, 62, came in with a teasing response: because she informs Stu of information she gleans on Facebook, Stu still benefits from the platform, “even if [he wants] to be high and mighty about boycotting it.”

In fewer than 24 hours, the comment exchange had gone viral on social media. “Good lord, imagine getting owned this hard in the NYT comments section by your OWN SPOUSE,” tweeted a reporter at the Times, which also covered the couples’ remarks. “Wife Gleefully Owns Her Husband in NY Times Comments Section After He Boasts About Facebook Boycott,” read the headline attached to Mediaite’s story about the back-and-forth. It was a response that Kathy and Stu did not at all expect.

“We had no idea that anybody would find it humorous outside the two of us,” Kathy told the Cut. “I guess it’s a slow news day.”

Below, the Cut spoke via telephone to the pair at their Hood River, Oregon, about their commenting habits, virality, and their never-ending teasing.

How does it feel to go semi-viral?
Kathy: We’ve been laughing about all of this! Some of the comments from media, like, “I owned my husband” or whatever, are kinda ridiculous, though, because he made some really important comments about Facebook! At the same time, Facebook is a really easy way for me to stay in touch with our grown kids who live hours away, and with all of our friends and the things that are happening in our community.

So Stu, have you ever had a Facebook?
Stu: I was an earlier adopter than my wife — I actually started exploring it for some marketing work that I was doing for a hotel in 2010. I wasn’t really inclined to use it on a personal basis, though. Whenever I went to my personal page, I saw the same three or four people posting the same three of four posting the same three or four rants.

Kathy: Well the other thing to understand about him, Amanda, is that he is a very social person. I’m your typical introverted chef. He’s down around town, talking to people. He can spend half hour at the grocery story, getting a half-gallon of milk, because he runs into so many people. And it’s the same thing at the post office.

Stu: I guess you could call them real-world social networks.

So Kathy, how did you find Stu’s comment?
Kathy: We have a digital subscription for the New York Times, and because I’m the subscriber, when either one of us makes a comment in a story, the automated system sends the note to me that the comment had been approved. I saw his comment come through [on Thursday], in my email box, and I thought, Oh I have something to say about that. So I just went to the comments and added my comment to it. And then I was joking to him later, “Oh you better go look at the New York Times.”

Did you anticipate the public’s reaction at all?
Kathy: The team at the Times that manages all those comments got in touch with me Friday morning, and they sent me the number of shares and likes into the thousands on Twitter. And then, another friend sent me a link to a story on Mediaite. But I would much rather be famous for my memoir, but I guess you don’t get to choose.

Stu: Did I mention that she’s looking for an agent?

Kathy: Stop it, Stuart! He’s just giving me a hard time because I’ve been emailing literary agents who are interested in memoirs about food.

I can definitely see the playful dynamic between you two, of which we got a glimpse in the comments. You’d both say you like to tease each other?
Kathy: Oh it’s never-ending. We do have a great, humorous, fun relationship. I admire him frankly for his reasoned arguments.

Do you do this often in the comments? Or, first question: How frequently do you leave comments?
Stu: I’m probably the more frequent commenter, and knowing that she reads them so assiduously, it’s now a great way for me to let her know that the vacuum is lagging or that it’s her turn to take the dog out. Yes, Trump is an idiot, but will you please do the dishes tonight?

Back to the way the comment exchange was perceived. 
Kathy: I certainly did not feel like this was one-upmanship on my husband. I really want to continue to have a good relationship with him.

Stu: In my commenting on my experience with Facebook, my dear beloved here may have taken some personal offense because she finds it of value, but that was never my intent with it — to impugn her motives or the benefits that she gets. You know, sometimes it takes people a while to realize the error of their ways. She has my email address, she can reach me anytime she wants to.

Kathy: Now I’m not following you on Instagram either — forget it!

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