Editorial: Facebook paid ads aren’t the best route

It was a post that appeared on Facebook from the Government of Saskatchewan last week – an elevated risk of COVID-19 in Estevan due to variants of concern. 

And it featured a lot of the warnings we’re used to hearing. Take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves and others safe. Stay home if you have symptoms, other than to arrange a COVID-19 test. And if someone in your house has symptoms, the entire household should remain home until test results are known. 

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The government asked us to reduce activities outside of the home, work from home if possible, order food through takeout or curbside pickup options, and to avoid unnecessary travel to Estevan if possible.  

But it was the method in which it was posted that irked some: a paid advertisement through Facebook, rather than a more traditional means. 

There wasn’t a press release specific to Estevan that had been issued previously for other areas of the province. There wasn’t a message on the Facebook pages of the Government of Saskatchewan or the Saskatchewan Health Authority, an approach taken routinely by the government in the past 13 months.

Just the paid advertisement with no traceable location. 

An over-reliance on Facebook is a risky strategy. While it might seem like everyone is on the social media platform, that’s not the case. You can’t just post it on Facebook and hope that everyone will find out about it. And when there’s no traceable location (as was the case this time), it becomes even worse. 

The press release would have been a more effective way to get the word out immediately, and then they could have used Facebook as the supplementary resource. 

The government says that they have alluded to the rising number of variants of concern in Estevan in their previous daily COVID updates, but that’s also easy to miss when you consider how much information there is in the daily COVID updates, and that the information on variants of concern is near the bottom of the news release. 

As for those upset about the don’t travel to Estevan warning, the government says that was covered in the April 11 COVID update, but only Weyburn and Moose Jaw were subject to don’t travel advisories.  

The paid Facebook message also reinforced the ongoing polarizing realities of the pandemic. It further fuelled the fear that some are experiencing, and gave others a platform to express their anti-pandemic and anti-restriction opinions – comments they’ve reiterated time after time.  

You could make a case that we’re in the first wave of COVID-19 in Estevan. We’ve had cases before. There were 25 active cases in Estevan’s South East Zone 4 last fall, with a lot of them from Estevan, but 25 is a relatively small number compared to what some Saskatchewan small cities have experienced in the last year. 

There was a peak of 38 active cases in Zone 4 in January, but most of those cases were not in Estevan.  

There were 98 cases in Zone 4 on Sunday, a new high, and for the first time in months, we’ve had outbreaks declared. There were cases reported at the Estevan Comprehensive School and other schools in the southeast, and some businesses have closed their doors to the public.

Once it became clear that Regina was a hotspot for variants of concern, it was almost inevitable that the variants would make their way here, since there is a lot of travel that occurs between Estevan and Regina, even during a pandemic.  

Hopefully, we can get our numbers down to a more manageable level, although the days of having the fewest number of active cases in the province might be over.

As for right now, we shouldn’t need a paid advertisement from the provincial government to warn us about the precautions we need to take to stay safe.  

But if the government wants to warn us, they should look at other methods of communication, such as press releases, rather than hoping everyone will see their paid Facebook message.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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