Public’s presence plays vital role

There are many things we could say about Facebook — some good, some not so good — but we have always believed this about the social media giant: it should never be used as a single source for news and information nor the only platform for voicing support of or opposition to a particular issue.

It’s true on a national level, but it is especially true when on a local platform. Sounding off on Facebook perhaps relieves some of the anger one might feel, but it doesn’t have the power that voices and numbers do at, say, a county commissioners meeting.

Case in point would be recent fines leveled against the Sampson County Animal Shelter. The Sampson Independent broke news of the fines a few weeks ago, detailing a state inspection of the shelter that revealed a lack of necessary veterinary care for animals, improper record-keeping and the euthanization of more than a dozen dogs and cats before the required minimal three-day holding period (nearly all were put down within 24 hours of intake).

When we posted the breaking story on our own Facebook page, it blew up, reaching 28,216, with over 470 shares and hundreds of comments, most expressing horror at the findings, detailing disgust at the service they have received when trying to visit the shelter and frustration with the shelter’s hours and the presumed lack of care by county administration , staff and commissioners.

Yet, when county commissioners met last week, with the animal shelter an item on its agenda, only five people spoke. And while all five gave impassioned pleas for more transparency and better care, the strength in numbers we believe it takes to truly get commissioners to open their eyes to the problem and act with haste wasn’t there. In fact, the auditorium was practically empty save the five souls who bravely faced commissioners to express their concerns and offer solutions.

The 28,000-plus individuals the story reached on Facebook were absent from the meeting; the 478 people who shared the story weren’t filling the county auditorium seats; the hundreds who commented did not allow their voices to be heard at a public meeting where their strength could have shown county officials just how serious people are about shelter animals being cared for properly and not killed as quickly as possible.

People allowed Facebook to be their platform rather than fill an auditorium where elected officials would have to stare out at a sea of animal supporters and hear their disgust. The impact would have been tremendous and, we believe, the actions faster and more progressive than even those board chairman Clark Wooten pointed out at the opening of the meeting.

To the county’s credit, they were fully prepared, with talking points on the animal shelter issues. They owned up to some of the shelter’s shortcomings, talked about actions they would take and discussed shelter staff training that would be implemented.

They also took exception to some of the violations and cited positives they believed had taken place at the shelter (“…it would be disingenuous to say that there has not been some good working taking place at the shelter,” said County Manager Ed Causey).

Of course, one has to wonder why training wasn’t important before the violations saw light, just as one has to question why shortcomings weren’t noticed and action taken before the violations were given to county officials on March 12. Or why no one outside of county officials knew about the violations until the SI discovered them and alerted citizens. Facebook posts questioned many of these same things, but no one was at the meeting to pose these all-important questions to the commissioners they elected to office.

Right now, the jury is out on whether the county’s words will translate into progressive action. We certaily hope it will

We will be watching, and we hope citizens, who so quickly voiced their outrage on Facebook, will be too, ready if there is a next time to let their voices be heard and their presence be known at a public meeting where officials will have to face them rather than just read about their wrath on social media.