Jaffrey police chief urges public not to spread misinformation on social media

  • The Jaffrey Rail Trail. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Todd Muilenberg Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • The Jaffrey Police Department Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Jaffrey Rail Trail. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/15/2020 2:30:10 PM

Jaffrey Police Chief Todd Muilenberg spent a good portion of his Tuesday clearing up social media misinformation after an unfounded rumor circulated about a dangerous situation on the Jaffrey Rail Trail. 

Muilenberg said his department received a report Monday from a resident who was walking the Rail Trail when they happened upon a group of people with backpacks locking arms and standing on the trail. Muilenberg said the person turned around, left the trail and reported the group to an off-duty officer.

Muilenberg and another officer investigated the length of the Rail Trail from both the Jaffrey and Rindge entrances and found nothing suspicious. After further investigation, Muilenberg determined that the group of people with backpacks were actually students taking part in a school nature walk.

“There is no information to suggest there is, or ever was any threat to the public,” Muilenberg wrote in a press release Tuesday afternoon. “Based off of the description of the group given to us at the time of the report, we are confident these groups are all one in the same.”

Despite the fact that the alleged incident was a mere misunderstanding and no one was in danger, locals took to social media and told a different tale. 

“PSA: my friend was on the rail trail in Jaffrey this morning about a mile in was met by 8 guys with their arms locked blocking the trail,” a Jaffrey Facebook user posted Tuesday morning. “He turned around and got out of there. went straight to the cops.. the cop felt like they were baiting them to come check it out. the police said its to dangerous to be walking back there. Just helping get this out there for people that walk the trail.”

Muilenberg said that this was simply not true, that police never said it was dangerous to walk on the trail and that there was no evidence that anyone was trying to lead them into a trap.

“Why they would start posting this, I have no idea,” Muilenberg said. “This is just a total rumor that I am not sure why it’s worded the way it’s worded.”

The since-deleted post was shared over 274 times, despite the Jaffrey Police Department issuing a statement on Facebook clearing up the rumor.

“...The reports about the area being unsafe are completely unsubstantiated, and there is no evidence to suggest there is any risk to the public on the trails,” the release stated.

It’s yet another example of the now-omnipresent plague of social media misinformation creating fear in communities. In Oregon, misinformation about Black Lives Matter protesters starting wildfires led to groups of armed militia members setting up checkpoints and threatening to shoot journalists documenting the fires. Locally, a long-since debunked rumor about antifa traveling to southern New Hampshire to attack people in their homes was spread on social media in recent weeks. 

“No problem im good new 12 gauge, 2 ,9 mm and a 357,” one New Ipswich Facebook user posted in response to the home invasion misinformation. 

“Isnt the rail trail public property? Plow them over with a 4wheeler,” a Jaffrey man commented Tuesday morning. 

Aside from stoking angry public sentiment, the spread of misinformation makes it more difficult for Muilenberg and his department to protect and serve the community. Muilenberg said he and his sergeant on duty took a slew of calls from concerned citizens Tuesday following the incorrect Facebook post.

“It’s wasting our time,” Muilenberg said. “We want to get the right information out to the public…Social media, I wish people would be more responsible before you post something. I wish people would call us first.”




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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