Fake News from the Po­lice no dif­fer­ent from So­cial Me­dia Fake News!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Time and time again since join­ing the STAR ed­i­to­rial de­part­ment, the point has been driven home to me and my col­leagues that so­cial me­dia can be both a curse and a bless­ing; that no re­porter in his right mind would treat nor­mally anony­mous or pseudony­mous FB post­ings as in­ves­ti­gated facts.

On the sur­face, Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing with the po­lice was just an­other run-ofthe-mill, cliché-driven ac­tiv­ity. But this one of­fered more than the usual amount of food for thought. So many ques­tions had to be an­swered with nonan­swers. Why con­vene a press con­fer­ence if the im­por­tant an­swers have not yet been un­cov­ered?

The first ques­tion posed at the re­called press con­fer­ence be­gan thus: “There’s been talk of fifty pass­ports stolen . . .” The as­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice in­ter­jected with this cu­ri­ous line: “Presently, to­tally er­ro­neous. Not true at all.” Did that mean the cir­cu­lat­ing “to­tally er­ro­neous” ru­mours were so only for the mo­ment and would likely prove true in a week or so?

An­other re­porter said: “It’s a trav­esty to have your pass­port of­fice bro­ken into.” This time it was Com­mis­sioner Monch­ery who ad­dressed the re­porter’s state­ment: “Let me just clear some things here. It is not cor­rect to say that the pass­port of­fice was bro­ken into.”

Which in­vited an­other ques­tion: “What part of the im­mi­gra­tion of­fice was bro­ken into?” The Com­mis­sioner set out again to clear the musty air: “I said it was an ex­ten­sion of the

. . . not an im­mi­gra­tion of­fice . . . it’s an ex­ten­sion of the im­mi­gra­tion of­fice that deals with cit­i­zen­ship. Not Cit­i­zen­ship by In­vest­ment. So Cit­i­zen­ship by In­vest­ment has noth­ing to do with this of­fice.”

The com­mis­sioner was asked what more the po­lice could do to get ahead of the vi­ral cir­cu­la­tion of fake news. His re­sponse: “I think what we need to do is, well, we have a ded­i­cated press of­fice that would mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia and those other me­dia houses, and then we try our best when we come across such in­for­ma­tion to give the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion to the me­dia.” The look on the face of the me­dia reps said just one thing: “Gib­ber­ish!”

That “cor­rect in­for­ma­tion” about the Lamar build­ing bur­glary came on Jan­uary 8, 2019, two weeks after the oc­cur­rence. The po­lice ev­i­dently had no way of know­ing the ex­act date of the bur­glary, a shock­ing ad­mis­sion, con­sid­er­ing govern­ment doc­u­ments were stored in the rented premises.

And while it is true that “the me­dia is duty-bound to ver­ify a lot of the in­for­ma­tion out there is true be­fore of­fer­ing it for pub­lic con­sump­tion”, it is also true that the po­lice took way too long be­fore at­tempt­ing to de­bunk the so­cial me­dia dis­in­for­ma­tion about the Lamar build­ing break-in.

On the other hand, as it turned out, they were too quick to com­ment on Kim­berly de Leon’s homi­cide. Much of what a lead­ing of­fi­cer said at a re­lated press con­fer­ence later turned out to be un­proven, pos­si­ble gos­sip, and dan­ger­ous spec­u­la­tion. Thanks to the po­lice, it is likely most peo­ple be­lieve Kim­berly was shot mul­ti­ple times, that the po­lice con­sider her hus­band a per­son of in­ter­est and so on. It would later turn out that even as po­lice were mak­ing their dec­la­ra­tions be­fore the press, the so-called “per­son of in­ter­est” was be­ing in­ter­viewed by other po­lice per­son­nel. He was later al­lowed to re­turn to the home he had shared with his wife and their two kids—the scene of the crime— with no charges. He was not re­quired to hand over travel doc­u­ments, which would not have been the case if the po­lice had rea­son to tie him to his wife’s death.

As the say­ing goes, “A lie can travel half­way around the world while the truth is still put­ting on its shoes.” The po­lice seem to be per­pet­u­ally put­ting on their boots. Yes, it is in­cum­bent on the reg­u­lar me­dia to ver­ify be­fore dis­sem­i­nat­ing re­ceived in­for­ma­tion, es­pe­cially from anony­mous so­cial me­dia. Some may say it is even more im­por­tant that what the po­lice tell the press for cir­cu­la­tion must be ab­so­lute truth. Fake news sup­plied by the po­lice is still fake news.

The phe­nom­e­non known as so­cial me­dia grows worse by the minute. Ref­er­enc­ing a Face­book video that this week went vi­ral, the Com­mis­sioner con­ceded that “it’s some­times difficult to iden­tify the per­sons fea­tured”.

He said his men were in­ves­ti­gat­ing the lat­est trou­ble­some video “and I can as­sure you that when we’ve iden­ti­fied who the peo­ple are, the law will be ap­plied fully”. What to make of that? No doubt it will come out in the wash, sooner or later! ---Dean Nestor

At Wed­nes­day’s press con­fer­ence, the po­lice an­swered plenty of ques­tions from the me­dia but most were just “non-an­swers”.

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