The awesome power of social media can no longer be questioned.

It drives our political debate, shapes our buying habits and sways our personal relationships.

Like any formidable power, it can be used for fair or foul purposes.

Sometimes, however, even a well-intentioned use of social media can go astray.

That appears to be the case over the latest dust-up involving the treatment of animals at Jim Mack’s Ice Cream in Hellam Township.

That’s the same ice cream shop and roadside attraction that relinquished Ricki the bear to a Colorado wildlife sanctuary more than two years ago in a highly publicized case of alleged animal cruelty.

The business still has a small animal menagerie featuring a variety of different species, including emus, alpacas, goats, rabbits, peacocks, a goose and a llama.

Recently, an online petition targeting Jim Mack’s Ice Cream was started, alleging that the animals were being mistreated. There were concerns the animals weren’t being fed enough or provided enough clean water. There also was an allegation that animals were caked in dirt and mud.

The owner, however, disputed those charges. He claimed the animals were well cared for. A recent check of the business seemed to confirm the owner’s claims. Water and food was readily available, and none of the animals appeared visibly underweight.

The York County SPCA confirmed its Humane Society police officer visited the business recently and that she gave the owner instructions on “water maintenance.” The officer returned the next day and determined the situation had improved.

All in all, the animals appear adequately cared for, and the overall facility looked well maintained.

Yes, you can question the wisdom of operating a small zoo next to an ice cream parlor and roadside attraction. That’s a debate for another day.

But it doesn’t appear that the animals were being significantly harmed in an illegal manner.

It likely would’ve been better if the well-intentioned animal lovers would have spoken directly to the owner or the SPCA before taking to social media, where opinions can become “facts” in an instant and spread like wildfire, even if those opinions have relatively little basis in fact.

In this social media age, however, it’s often easier to post first and ask questions later.

It’s a sad sign of the times.

It’s also a good way to unfairly tarnish someone’s reputation.

That’s something we all should think about the next time we’re hovering over the send button.

Do we have all the facts? Have we actually spoken to the parties involved? Are we seeing the entire picture?

Social media is an immensely powerful tool. It can be used to build consensus or destroy reputations.

Like any powerful tool, however, it should always be used with proper caution.

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