From the Editor’s Desk: Where did I hear that from?

Published 5:49 pm Friday, November 3, 2023

The last week has not been a fun one for my family. We had a family member diagnosed with a rapidly progressing cancer. And in that first day after the diagnosis, utter chaos just broke out. Cousins started posting insanely incorrect things on Facebook, material that changed by the hour. An aunt or two decided to message just random people, claiming this family member had everything from COVID-19 to ‘a ruptured soul’. I’m still trying to work out what that last one is. Between everyone texting and calling, they had this person either dead or dying, in hospitals spread across multiple states. And in each case, the messenger promised that they, and they alone, knew and could provide the truth. Except, none of them actually did. 

One by one, a number of us had to tear all this apart, providing correct information (and in some cases, no information, because understandably, the family member in question wanted some privacy). About a week later and we’re still clearing up confusion generated by the rush, the sheer determination to ‘tell everyone!’. I’m fairly certain I lost a few Christmas invites over the last seven days, calming things down. Now I say all this to point out a very similar problem happening here, when it comes to the elections. 

My inbox and even my actual mailbox has been flooded over the last few weeks with every pamphlet known to man. On television, I’ve seen every conceivable ad, with so many politicians and would-be politicians declaring it’s the end of the world as we know it unless you vote for them. If there is a bad possibility of some shape, form or fashion, it has made its way through email chains, newsletters and text messages. And here’s the thing. Just like the information my beloved family members felt the need to share, more than 99% of all of these “warnings” are wrong. 

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It’s a cautionary tale. We need to be careful what we see, hear and read. What evidence backs up a person’s claims? Are we getting something firsthand, or is this a “I heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend” thing? Are we nodding along because something actually makes sense or just because it’s a friend who we want to believe? 

Earlier this week, a person called my cell phone, wanting to know why we hadn’t endorsed her preferred candidate in a race and “exposed the true evil” of his opponent. Well, there are two problems here. First, we don’t do endorsements. Period. Why? Because I feel that if we endorse a specific candidate, then it takes away any credibility we have in covering that race. How could people trust what we say about the opponent, when we’ve already said we support candidate X? The second problem here is that neither candidate she mentioned is in a race here in Central Virginia. Instead, it turns out she got a local county confused with a city of the same name, several states over. 

This is what I mean when I say we need to be careful. Say that person doesn’t call me and instead goes to the ballot box, mind firmly made up that Candidate X is right and Candidate Y is evil. Except when she gets her ballot, neither name is there. In fact, the race her friend talked about isn’t even on the piece of paper. This is how conspiracy theories start, how we start getting incredibly worked up over something that’s not even real. 

I can give other examples as well, of people who heard a number of fairly impressive stories about a local politician, believing him to have a massive criminal record. Nope. It turns out the criminal record they were citing was of a woman who lives two counties away. 

So here we are, heading toward Election Day. For some, you’re already armed with a list of candidates you support or those you don’t like. Before casting a ballot, all I ask is you take a minute and look back. Where did you get your information about the race? What’s the source? Can you prove what you’re saying? 

Let’s just take one step back before we step up to the voting booth.

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at