Try to ignore the false narratives on social media

Social media helps us see a lot of great activism, on a bunch of different fronts. Direct community activism — the kind that addresses a specific, localized community issue. Broad, topical activism — advocating for change in areas such as criminal justice reform, environmental protection, or even the economy.

A recent Facebook about the latter caught my eye. This poster, who has called the Finger Lakes home for his entire life, was critiquing Albany for what he felt was an unfair set of circumstances.

“There aren’t any jobs and these people are more worried about legalizing marijuana????” the post read. The comment section below the post was wild with people from all over the political spectrum, some just weighing in, others supporting or criticizing the poster. A few days later he took it down, but it reminded me of the challenge that social media poses in rural communities.

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More than anything else, Facebook and other social media platforms have become sounding boards. Whether the ideas are good, bad, or indifferent, social media becomes a catchall for feelings, ideas, and musings that can have major implications.

That’s because Facebook dictates modern rhetoric.

I know, I know. A lot of people reading this right now probably want to push back against that, but even in rural communities like the Finger Lakes, Facebook is where a majority of dialogue happens. While I don’t know the person who posted the above message very well, I assume it was taken down either because his view was swayed or because he was tired of reading and responding to comments. There were over 100 of them, several of which included sub-threads that spun off into debates of their own.

It’s a reminder that for all the good that can be done on platforms such as Facebook to mobilize populations, advocate for change and create positivity, a lot of harm also can be done.

The posting about jobs and New York state wasn’t that unique, though. I’ve seen it before. It’s a sentiment that some folks — even some elected officials in the region — like to push because it fits the narrative that all of our problems are someone else’s fault.

It’s an undeniable fact that businesses in the Finger Lakes and Upstate New York struggle because of Albany’s actions. Legislation passed year-after-year makes it harder to do business and more challenging to make money. It’s a stretch, though, to suggest that there are no jobs.

It’s true that jobs don’t look like they did 30 or 40 years ago. Pensions are mostly gone, pay rates are either stagnate or inadequate, there is less job security.

Many business owners, however, are saying the same thing: “I have jobs, but can’t find anyone to fill them.”

It’s a fascinating contrast, one that I’ve wanted to hear more discussion about. It’s easy to pile on Albany and blame state lawmakers for the way things are in 2019, but the fact is that jobs look dramatically different in rural parts of the Finger Lakes because of significantly greater forces.

There are disgruntled members of the workforce, frustrated that their skill set doesn’t match that of the modern workforce, and a group of businesses that often are faced with success or failure based on what prospective employees walk through their doors.

If a company or business is 20, 30, or 40 positions down. It means that they could be significantly more productive than they are presently. Despite that lack of productivity, they still have the resources and funds to support hiring all those people, for the greater, long-term good of their business.

Think about that for a second. Especially given the tenor of debate around doing business in Upstate. People use platforms such as Facebook as a gauge for what things are like out there in the “real world.” Even though it’s online.

Here’s the challenge: Overcoming the damage that posts like the one that Facebook user shared into my own newsfeed. It was interacted with hundreds of times and likely viewed by thousands. A few of the people who originally commented on it felt emboldened to share similar views in their own posts separate of the original.

They all shared the same sentiment: There aren’t any jobs here in the Finger Lakes and lawmakers are trying to legalize marijuana.

Lawmakers in the region have pushed back against legalizing marijuana, and yes, there are jobs here in the region. But the economic problems of Upstate, and for that matter the rest of the United States, are far more complicated than that.

That said, just like the positivity and activism can share, trend and work on Facebook to make a difference, so too can the negative, incorrect or incomplete information make an impact. It can drive a narrative and perception about a region that’s completely incorrect.

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