Stolen elections, birtherism, COVID-19. Conspiracy theories abound these days, and now, an increasing number of active social media users have taken it upon themselves to become the “lumber-shortage truthers” of our day.
Despite lumber shortage data that’s been released for consecutive months by industry associations, including the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), lumber-shortage truthers have taken to social media to dispel what they see as the myth of the lumber shortage.
These conspiracy theorists assert that the shortage has been contrived to drive up prices in an industry that actually has plenty supply to go around — and those behind it are profiting while pricing out potential homebuyers from achieving the American dream.
“This right here is what they call telling us we’re having a lumber shortage,” TikTok user nikkistimely0 says in one video posted on TikTok, and then Facebook at the beginning of May, while driving by a lumber yard that displays stacks of lumber.
“That’s why the price of wood is so high; because we apparently have a lumber shortage. But there’s rows and rows and rows like that — just, they’re just slowly handing it out. Look at that. But we’re in a shortage, and that’s why prices are so high.”
Individual sleuths who claim to have an inside look into the industry have also taken to social media in numbers to give their personal testimony to the shortage. TikTok user kevinturner363 says in a video on the platform that he’s a flatbed truck driver with first-hand experience in the matter.
“The third party lumber buyers, they have this lumber stacked up as high as the fork lifts will go,” TikTok user kevinturner363 said in a video on the platform. “They’re holding onto it and just barely trickling it out a little bit here and a little bit there to keep prices drived up. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. That’s what’s going on.”
“When COVID hit, that’s when I noticed that the sawmills never slowed down, but the lumber loads count went down,” he added. “So that told me right there that somebody’s holding onto it.”
Some videos have rapidly gone viral, like “TRAIN LOADS OF LUMBER JUST STACKED UP !!!! Why,” posted to YouTube three weeks ago by Kens Karpentry, which has nearly 500,000 views.
In contrast to many other such lumber sleuth videos, Kens Karpentry’s is more inquisitive and mild mannered than accusatory and outraged. The video’s host could be your grandpa or the friendly next door neighbor, which is perhaps why the video has seen such wide appeal.
“This lumber goes on for over 1/4 of a mile, maybe 3/8s of a mile,” the video’s host says while the camera pans across a lumber depot that houses lumber coming in from Canada, according to the speaker. “I’m just astounded at how much lumber is here, and I’m wondering why there’s such a problem at the lumber yards. We’re still seeing the prices increase at the lumber yards, so I’m not sure why … ”
“We’re just one little pocket in Vermont of lumber that I don’t know how many houses you could build with all this lumber, but it’s a lot,” the video host adds. “So it’s just interesting, why? Why? You get to the point where you’re speechless because you just wonder what is going on.”
The cost of lumber has tripled since one year ago, according to the NAHB and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. David Logan, a senior economist with the NAHB, told Inman in April that lumber prices had already been steadily rising pre-pandemic, but once the pandemic hit and most lumber producers bet that it would result in a sharp drop in housing demand, that incorrect assumption set lumber companies way back, fueling the heightened disparity between supply and demand.
The resulting sharp increases in lumber costs have added about $35,872 onto the price of an average new single-family home, according to CNBC.
As TikTok lumber shortage videos have been remixed into video compilations on Facebook, their creators are reaching an older demographic of the social media platform’s users who are less likely to have TikTok accounts.
But the theories have also spread beyond commonplace social media platforms to pro-Trump and QAnon spaces on the web, according to The Daily Beast.
“There are a LOT of these type vids showing the BS narrative of Lumber shortages,” one individual wrote on a popular QAnon forum, according to The Daily Beast. “Nothing short of market manipulation to drive up prices, most notably homes. Why Homes? Part of the American dream is to buy a house.”