Iowans Turn To Facebook Groups For COVID Info Amid Transparency Issues

By Joey Aguirre

May 13, 2020

Whether it’s advocating for essential workers, breaking news or general updates, the combination of tight-lipped meatpacking companies and public health departments are forcing community members in Perry and Waterloo to find answers to their questions on newly formed Facebook groups.

Groups reviewed by Iowa Starting Line range from a few hundred members to over 13,000. Some groups, such as Apoyo Latino en Iowa Covid-19 and Hispanics United for Perry focus on communicating COVID-19 updates with the Latino communities. Other groups, like Call to Action: Protect Tyson Workers and Shut Down Tyson: Save Our Community advocate for essential workers and their communities, sharing stories, news and community events.

Starting Line has previously covered how some Latino activists have organized online, largely through Facebook.

Sven Peterson, Perry City Administrator, says they have relied heavily on using their social media presence during the pandemic as a way of reaching the community with important announcements related to COVID-19. As a way of cutting through misinformation and legitimizing their posts, Peterson says they will share posts from public health departments, the Center for Disease Control and HUP (Hispanics United for Perry) on the City of Perry Facebook page.

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“Social media has been especially helpful during the pandemic, especially with as rapidly as things change,” Peterson says. “We’ve been able to post something on Facebook quickly and refer people to either the city website or another authority for more information about what to be doing.”

Balancing what to post and when to post has been the biggest challenge for the city, Peterson says. He jokes that it’s easy to get views on a post about a pet that needs to be claimed but news from the Dallas County Public Health Department may not be as interesting.

“It’s always a struggle to get people to pay attention,” Peterson says. “We’re trying to be very intentional about what we post, when we post and how many times we post. You don’t want things to get lost in the shuffle.”

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After news last week that hundreds of workers at the local Tyson plant tested positive for COVID-19, Peterson said the community slowed reopening talks but that the news served as a reminder to how serious this situation is. The chamber of commerce program offering $30 gift cards to local restaurants for $20 has provided more than $60,000 to Perry businesses.

“It’s been great to get our local businesses some cash flow during this time,” Peterson says. “In the meantime, we’re still focusing on educating about safe practices and social distancing.”

Learning On The Job

Waterloo city councilman Jonathan Grieder knew his first year as a city council member would be a learning curve — he just didn’t expect the learning to come during a pandemic.

As a way of communicating with his constituents, Grieder manages a Facebook page to share daily COVID-19 data from Black Hawk County (which also uses its Facebook page to share COVID-19 data).

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Grieder will post about best practices for social distancing and community events to support essential workers. During his campaign last fall, Grieder said he kept a very active social media presence — with Twitter and Instagram accounts as well — to reach various age demographics.

“We have access to information as policymakers that needs to be shared with our constituents,” Grieder, 30, says. “Waterloo has been in the news a lot lately, but I’ve had constituents tell me that they appreciate us being open and transparent because that’s not what they get very often from other elected officials or businesses.”

He says the City of Waterloo Waterloo Communications Department has ramped up its communications on social media and started posting meetings on YouTube for citizens to watch at home.

“We’re getting information to people,” Grieder says. “And while social media isn’t always the greatest place for facts, if we can get facts out there and make it accessible, we are doing our part and our job.”

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In addition to the local Tyson plant—where over 1,000 employees tested positive for the coronavirus— the biggest issue facing his Waterloo is the long-term care facilities.

“We are getting to the plateau phase, but it will be a long time before anything goes back to normal,” Grieder says. “And that’s if nothing new crops up, which is really dependent on leaders making the right decisions.”


by Joey Aguirre
Posted 5/13/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

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