I am old enough to remember being solemnly lectured in a grade-school classroom, in 1975 or so, about the perils of razor blades in Halloween apples. Back then, a few serious-minded people still did give trick-or-treaters apples. (The local dentist gave out toothbrushes.)
The concept was surprisingly durable — a ‘Dear Abby’ column in 1983 told its readers, as a certainty, that “somebody’s child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade” in an October 31 column.
However, there is only one example of pins or razors being given out to trick-or-treaters in apples in North America in decades, and no examples of poisoned candy involving strangers. (A Texas man murdered his son in the 1970s with cyanide-laced candy that he claimed came from trick-or-treating.)
Other reports, when scrutinized, turn out to involve bad luck, pre-existing health problems, or in one case a family trying to cover up the fact that a boy had overdosed on a relative’s heroin.
“Halloween sadism can be viewed as an urban legend which emerged during the early 1970s to give expression to growing fears about the safety of children, the danger of crime and other sources of social strain,” a researcher wrote in 1985.
This year started to see a kind of third wave — a fear that trick-or-treaters might be given cannabis edibles. All over the continent this year, authorities warned of edibles being given away to trick-or-treaters.
It’s not, on the face of it, completely impossible to see. Colorado allows edibles in candy form (other U.S. states with legal recreational pot don’t) and it’s rare but not unheard-of for kids to get into them if they’re not properly stored.
Predictably, though, the holiday came and went without any children being given any edibles anywhere, except for an odd incident in Victoria:
The release makes it clear that the edibles were found because they were in a clearly labelled package complete with warnings, though, which indicated that something else was going on.
Details started to emerge:
Given that millions of children ring millions of doorbells on Halloween, and have every year for decades, the holiday has a remarkable safety record. The fact that so much emotion and alarm has been expended over the years over a danger that has been shown to exist only in the imagination says more about those propagating the myth than anything else.
WATCH: We demonstrate some key safety tips for your children when they go trick-or-treating on Halloween.
In fake news news:
- Digital propaganda doesn’t try to change minds, but amplifies and intensifies views that are already there, NPR explains.
- The Daily Beast looks at Jenna Abrams, a conservative online personality whose strong opinions attracted friends, foes and nearly 70,000 Twitter followers. She was also nonexistent, a creation of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm. “Abrams’ pervasiveness in American news outlets shows just how much impact Russia’s troll farm had on American discourse in the run-up to the 2016 election — and illustrates how Russian talking points can seep into American mainstream media without even a single dollar spent on advertising.”
- More details emerged this week about Russian-linked online propaganda and manipulation campaigns. In Maclean‘s, Colin Horgan wonders whether Russia means to be particularly covert: “The goal of Russia’s interference was systemic disruption. Awareness that Russians—or whoever else—can create genuine tension on American streets from afar, with nothing more than a social media app is not only profoundly, if subversively, disruptive to the target audience, it also deepens the general air of mistrust that has been already created by viral misinformation.”
- At the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal raises the possibility that Facebook has created an online ecosystem much too complex for the company to understand or control. “Given Facebook’s global, massive expansion … you might see why the company might be encountering — and genuinely trying to solve — “information-integrity” problems.”
- Hamilton68, which tracks Russian bot activity, noticed a surge in stories about a deal in which Hillary Clinton agreed to sell uranium to Russia in the days before special counsel Robert Mueller published charges against three former members of Trump’s campaign, Newsweek reports.
- The Columbia Journalism Review looks at Facebook’s future after the revelations about Russian ads: “The Russian ads in question are not the result of some kind of misunderstanding by regulators or critics of how the social network operates, nor are they the result of a software bug that produced unintended consequences. Instead, the ads are an example of the company’s social machinery working exactly as it was meant to.”
- Russian hacking and disinformation affecting the U.S. should be seen in a broader context, the AP points out: “Hackers … targeted the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin.”
- In the Guardian, Emily Bell traces the current crisis in fake news and social media-based propaganda to the disappearance of “traditional boundaries between different types of material”:
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