#BearSpanking: Wrong and Viral

Sierra Nevada College recently gained a reputation for a student ‘game’ of spanking bears.

Well, the game was an idea of a seasoned journalist from the San Francisco Chronicle who thought writing a humor piece with a news twist wouldn’t have any kind of traction.

He took his idea from a Nov. 7, 2013 SNC Eagle’s Eye article regarding bear activity on campus. The article stated that bears had been seen on campus and some students had fed or attempted to pet a bear. One student thought about spanking a bear.

“After he decided spanking the bear was a bad idea, the freshman stated that he grabbed a crab apple and fed it to the bear, which took his whole hand into its mouth,” said the Nov. 7, 2013 Eagle’s Eye article, “Black bears romp Sierra Nevada College”.

The Nov. 7, 2013 article also addressed what the school was doing to educate students.

“SNC has posted numerous fliers around campus reminding students to keep their doors and windows locked at all times as well as sending out a school wide email citing numerous tips for bear safety with a link to Incline Village General Improvement District’s (IVGID) bear awareness page,” said the Nov. 7, 2013 Eagle’s Eye article.

The Eagle’s Eye article also ran a photo of a student reaching out of a dorm window to a bear and letting the bear sniff his hand. This photo went viral on Facebook on the Sierra Sun and the Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame pages who claimed the student was feeding the bear.


The viral bear photo that ran on the front page of the Nov. 7, 2013 issue of the Eagle’s Eye has caused a media frenzy.

The Eagle’s Eye did not receive one letter to the editor or comment on the online version of the story, just angry Facebook posts. The paper’s Nov. 21, 2013 editorial addressed the lack of response, “Open mouth insert foot utilizing proper outlets”.


The editorial called the public to action stating, “that either the initial comments were followed up by an actual reading of the article or that the Tahoe community is only as serious as a 10 second Facebook post when it comes to bear safety.”

However, on Feb. 17 the thought of spanking a bear was turned into a full on game according to an article published on the online version of San Francisco Chronicle titled, “In Tahoe, please don’t spank the bears”.

“At Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, some students unaccustomed to bears have made it a game on campus to ‘spank’ the animals with a pat on the butt, another game to ‘pet’ one. One student resorted to feeding a bear an apple after deciding it was a bad idea to spank him, according to a November report in the student newspaper,” said reporter Tom Stienstra in a Feb. 17 article, “In Tahoe, please don’t spank the bears“.

This exaggerated statement led to several  media outlets writing stories that reiterated Stienstra’s sensationalized words. Not only did Stienstra sensationalize “spanking bears” when it didn’t occur, but he also made a significant mistake when he forgot to include the online link to the original story published in the Eagle’s Eye, which was his source for his story.

Following the release of the story and the lack of the link, Stienstra and the Sports Editor of the SF Chronicle received emails from myself asking to add a link to the story because just off handley referring to the Eagle’s Eye is not common courtesy among journalists.

By the time the link was finally added to the article, the story was viral and getting the truth out was next to impossible.

All the news sources that picked up the story cited the SF Chronicle story. The stories ranged from just furthering the exaggeration of the facts to questioning the intelligence of college students.

“Frankly, it’s surprising that so many students made it into college without knowing not to spank a bear. Maybe the SATs need an update: It’s okay to spank a bear (a) sometimes, (b) all the time, (c) when under the influence or (d) only if you’ve seen Grizzly Man and you know how this is going to end,” said Whitney Meers at the end of her version published Feb. 18 on Dumb as a Blog, “College students warned to stop spanking bears”.

The Interrobang wrote a quick blog post suggesting another activity for students to do.

“At Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, some students unaccustomed to bears have made it a game on campus to “spank” the animals they encounter. The college has asked them to stop this and to just go back to spanking in their dorm rooms,” said the Interrobang Staff in the Feb. 18 article, “College students told to stop spanking the bear”.

However, downtrend.com took another route when restating our alleged game.

“If Sierra Nevada College is like most others, it is overrun by liberal professors and their minions bright students. These are the leaders of tomorrow who will ensure America remains a beacon of freedom and knowledge on the world stage. And what better way to demonstrate their qualifications than to mimic the likes of Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O,” said James Daniels in the Feb. 18 article, “Genius college students spanking bears butts causing wildlife headache”.

On Feb. 19 on Facebook a link to the CBS 13 Sacramento Local, “Photos of Lake Tahoe student feeding bears spread on social media”,  story televised on Feb. 18 was shared multiple times along with the Huffington Post article, “The new hot college fad” also published on Feb. 18, in the Huffington Post Weird News section.

“A ‘beary’ scary new college fad is popping up in Lake Tahoe. It seems that students at Sierra Nevada College in Nevada have started spanking bears that seem to be showing up on campus. The bears apparently have no fear of humans and are socialized to the point where they’re breaking into peoples’ dorm rooms and raiding their mini-fridges,” said the entire Huffington Post article on Feb. 18.

Many students recognized that this story was old news, wondering why it was being brought up again and others were angered at the students’ alleged game.

Twitter had a field day with the Huffington Post article by retweeting the article with their own thoughts. Responding to the misinformed tweeters with the original story had almost no effect. Some responded to my tweets with witty responses, another thanked me for the accurate information and another tweeted me their response to the article on downtrend.com.


Tweets ranged from sharing the different articles to opinions being voice since Feb. 17.

My attempt to tweet everyone that had wrong information was an all day endeavor that was almost impossible to keep up with. The bear spanking game had gone viral.

Eight different news sources spread the old news of bear activity. CBS 13 Sacramento was the only source that didn’t report the spanking game. However, on the Feb. 28 show of “Tony Takes on…” CBS gave further life to the ‘bear spanking’ game, with “Tony Takes on bear spanking”.

Twitter was once again brought to life with further misinformed comments about SNC, the students and intelligence levels. Since the Nov. 7, 2013 Eagle’s Eye article there have been no bear sightings on the SNC campus.



Twitter responses or mentions I received after sharing the original story on Feb. 18.

Originally published in the March 6 issue of the Eagle’s Eye.


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