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