The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 6, 2013

Eric Knopsnyder | Hair-raising scheme launched on Twitter


JOHNSTOWN — Never underestimate the power of social media.

It’s a lesson that I had reinforced recently. It wasn’t a heart-pounding, adrenaline-spiking, downright scary one like the bison encounter I wrote about last week, but it also took place on my recent trip to the Upper Midwest.

I’ve long been a proponent of social media, having jumped on Facebook and Twitter years before they became staples of daily life in the modern world. I’ve used them to catch up with old friends and make new ones, promote stories in the newspaper and develop sources

for ones that had yet to be written, and as a digital medium itself, learning of everything from Michael Jackson’s death to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ clinching a playoff berth via tweets.

So you’d think that I’d know better than to put something as important as my personal grooming habits in the hands of strangers.

But, alas, I doubted the power of social media last month and got burned. My wife made an offhand comment to one of the Johnstown Tomahawks players who lives with us about how she was going to put a message on Twitter saying that if she got 15 retweets that I would grow a handlebar mustache for the team’s next homestand. I stayed out of the conversation, except to ask if either of them knew what a handlebar mustache was. Having grown a goatee a few days earlier, they assured me that all it would require was me shaving the bottom and middle parts of the goatee while allowing the mustache to continue down on either side of my mouth. I doubted this, thinking it was more like the flashy ’stache of former baseball player Rollie Fingers.

That was all there was to the conversation. I never actually agreed to grow a handlebar mustache, mind you, but I also didn’t stop the discussion, either. That was my third mistake.

The first was in doubting the power of social media. Knowing that my wife only has about 60 followers, I

wasn’t too worried about her getting 1 in 4 of them to retweet her message. The second was wondering if she really was serious about posting it.

What I didn’t take into account is that Twitter messages can increase exponentially. So even though she only had a potential audience of 60, when she got a retweet from, say, a Tomahawks player, the message was then exposed to another few hundred followers.

When she only had a handful of tweets in the first few hours, I wasn’t concerned. By midday, more hockey players had tweeted it, and I started to get a little worried. By the time that a local television personality with more than 2,000 followers retweeted, I knew I was in trouble. By the end of the night, she had reached her stated goal and I was left to figure out exactly what a handlebar mustache was and how to go about growing one.

Turns out, there are plenty of websites devoted to handlebar mustaches. Unfortunately, as I feared, it wasn’t nearly as simple as trimming off part of a goatee. No, the real handlebar requires mustache wax, a comb and a lot of time.

And while I wasn’t going to welch on a bet that I never really agreed to, I also wasn’t going to be able to meet the demands of such a bet. So, Tami tweeted a disclaimer about how it wouldn’t be the true handlebar mustaches on my face this weekend. According to websites that purport to know such things, it will be more of a “horseshoe” look.

I’m guessing not nearly as many saw that as the original challenge.

Either way, I’ll be glad when I can get rid of it altogether. And you can bet that I won’t be accepting any more Twitter challenges.

Eric Knopsnyder is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at