It’s 2022 and by now most of us, at least those paying attention, understand that what we see posted on Facebook and other social media sites should not be trusted at first glance.
For the purposes of this column, I’m specifically referring to Facebook groups that like to give off the appearance of being a “news” outlet.
While most of us have evolved to understand that not everything we see online is true, there are those that still automatically believe what they read when encountering any given post or group on social media and there are those who, whether knowingly or not, contribute to misinformation and the platforming of misconceptions and tropes.
On Monday, a post on the Facebook group Yuba Sutter News irresponsibly assumed and added to something that was taken from the “Yuba Sutter Scanner Traffic Facebook page.” With increased awareness pushed by traditional media outlets and law enforcement agencies regarding fentanyl, posts such as the one that appeared in the group fed into a narrative without any factual basis or evidence to back up what was being suggested. At the time I am writing this column, the post has more than 300 likes, more than 130 comments and 58 shares. It is a shining example of “click bait” and why social media has been vilified recently by so many.
While fentanyl and other deadly drugs can and do have real-world impacts and should be taken seriously, we should have that discussion based on facts and actual examples of the harms these drugs can cause.
If you’re reading this column, then you probably already know to take inflammatory posts, such as the one that appeared on Yuba Sutter News, with a grain of salt. However, media literacy, and literacy in general in the U.S., is incredibly lacking among millions in this country and those millions can have a direct impact on our perceptions and understanding of the world around us – many of those perceptions can lead to laws or policies that actually affect us.
While some may dismiss the impacts and seriousness of posts that seek to stoke existing fears, those that wade through the comments will see why this issue shouldn’t be taken lightly. A large number of comments associated with Monday’s post seek to perpetuate myths and misconceptions based on an incident that wasn’t accurately portrayed.
The Appeal spoke with several officials related to the incident and confirmed that what was suggested by Yuba Sutter News was categorically false. I am purposefully not giving more information or details about what was posted because I do not want to distract from the actual harm and consequences posts like these can have. Essentially, what was posted Monday is emblematic of a broader problem in our relationship with social media and how we disseminate information.
“Other parts of the country… kids are still kids.. awkward looking weird clothing goofy kids… this is why we had to leave California. Yuba Sutter was my whole life. Lucky to have made it out alive,” one of the top comments states.
If you’ve lived your whole life in the Yuba-Sutter area, was it a struggle to make it out alive or is this more hyperbole based on false assumptions pushed by social media groups such as Yuba Sutter News?
I’ve seen these kinds of posts and comments countless times on various Yuba-Sutter Facebook groups. When I was considering moving here, it was pretty much all my family and I saw on Facebook. Yet, when we got here, we found reality was far different than what was being publicized and spread on these area groups. However, had I not taken the chance to move here, then I would have never known the actual truth: Yuba-Sutter is a great place to live and has the same kinds of struggles and successes found nearly everywhere around the country.
Think about that. How many potential future residents do you think the area has lost because of these types of false and overblown narratives being pushed by our local Facebook groups and others? What kind of effect is that having on our idea of what Yuba-Sutter is? What impacts do these kinds of throw-away posts have on residents’ self esteem?
I can tell you first hand that I have had several potential reporters who the Appeal wanted to hire pass on the job because of what they saw about the area on social media. I suspect there may be other employers who have faced similar challenges.
Here is another example: “Unacceptable, what in the bloody hell is going on in Sutter County? I’ve lived here my whole life, we’ve never been this bad, sure we had bouts with gangs (2 notorious ones) yet we ran them out thanks to our officers (80-90’s)& groups of parents, our local supervisors, etc. Some how things got mixed up by growth, expanding our resources to limits our county honestly cannot handle. Some people in power that We elected need to do a Hell of a lot better, if not it’s only gonna get a lot worse, yet this is only my opinion.”
Again, an opinion based on a false narrative being pushed by this particular Facebook group. And, an opinion that can have profound effects on the people that live here and the people that may want to live here.
In another extreme example, the post and what people believe happened also is being linked to talking points that have sought to stoke fears for decades.
“With our open southern border, Fentanyl is being transported to our country like crazy. Being made in China and then sent to Mexico to be transported here to kill as many people as possible. Disguised as candy, it is killing our kids. Just one little lick can kill a person. Talk to your children about this. And the teachers should be talking to them as well. Hope the child is ok. Praying,” a comment states.
“Well let’s start at the top with our open border and lack of interest in our government regarding the tons of drugs being brought in. It isn’t just our small towns it is an issue across our nation in every town. They are doing nothing to protect anyone from these drugs. So many people have died, government needs to open their eyes. Who’s child, or family member, friend, coworker or neighbor is next?” another person says.
Just to reiterate, I do not want to dismiss the dangers of fentanyl and other deadly drugs, but we should be basing that discussion on actual facts and examples of their dangers, not conspiracy theories.
Luckily, there are some individuals who recognize the irresponsibility of places such as Yuba Sutter News to post something as if it were fact or suggesting something is more than what it is.
“This is a strange post and a bit irresponsible without further details which leads to ppls interpretation and speculation. More details are needed before sharing unless you wish to cause a ruckus in the comments,” a person said.
Unfortunately, these kinds of comments are the minority and typically aren’t highlighted as much as negative opinions. As humans, we are attracted to disasters. Studies frequently show that crime stories are some of the most popular types of content for both news and other media outlets. And those who understand that, take advantage of that instinct to want to look at the worst of us and find someone or something to blame.
And what’s really unfortunate is that good people, whether they understand it or not, contribute to the madness. By liking a post, commenting on it or sharing it, you are helping to make the situation worse. I don’t even know if writing this column was a good idea, but sometimes I feel we must remind ourselves that even the most minor actions on social media can have major consequences.
Robert Summa is the editor of the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville and The Union in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com.