The fake news of tainted treats
Potentially poisoned Halloween candy has been afear for parents all over thecountry for the last 60 years.
Hysteria about the possible dangers of Halloween candy have consumed parents,in large part due to the finger-pointing and false conclusions news organizations make about sick children post-Halloween. In fact, this hysteria goes back to 1958, where experts first began to see claims of “Halloween sadism.”
Deadly Halloween treats have been an urban legend for decades, often debunked but never totally dismissed.
There have been many isolated incidents of children falling ill after a trick-or- treating spree, each of which have played into the fears of “mad poisoners” out to get kids.
Among the most infamous incidents are the 1994 “cocaine poisoning” of a boy in New Britain, Conn. (a week later, after significant media coverage, the local police found no trace of cocaine in the boy’s Halloween stash) and the 1982 “cyanide poisoning” of a kid from Detroit whose doctor went public with misread lab results (after further testing by the FDA, no contamination was found on the candy).
There have been more grisly cases of children unfortunately passing away after eating Halloween candy, but most, if not all of these cases, are entirely coincidental or premeditated.
One of the most notorious cases involves eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan and his father Ronald O’Bryan.
Timothy died at 10 p.m. on Oct. 31, 1974 after eating cyanide-laced Pixy Stix. It was determined after a police investigation that Ronald had tainted his son’s candy in order to collect on Timothy’s considerable life-insurance policy. Ronald even tried to cover his tracks, handing out additional toxic Pixy Stix to Timothy’s sister and friends.
By a stroke of luck, it was only Timothy who ate the poisoned candy that night.
Though terrible, Timothy’s calamitous case is an outlier. It was not the result of a random targeting by a sadist.
In recent years, this panic over Halloween candy has been heightened by the considerable power of social media. In past decades, a child could fake a tampered confection and present it only to their parents. For example, take this case presented by California State University, Fresno sociology professor Joel Best, where a child ate half of a piece of candy and applied ant poison to the uneaten side, running to his parents with dishonest fear.
However, such a story could now be posted on numerous social media websites, from Facebook to Twitter. Journalists prowling for a quick headline could immediately get in contact with the parents, and the false narrative of poisoned treats would begin again.
There have been several confirmed hoaxes (there’s an oxymoron) of kids posting untrue pictures of tainted candy on social media sites.
Don’t believe the hysteria. Someday your kids will want to go trick-or-treating, and that’s one tradition that all of us can still enjoy.