Letters & Opinion

Fooling-around with Fake News today is Simply Dangerous!

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

I woke up early on Monday April 1, informing selected friends and colleagues online: ‘Today marks my 48th unbroken year in journalism.’

April 1, 1976 was my very-first day on-the-job as Editor of ‘The Crusader’, one of the two major local weekly newspapers back-then – an opposition voice that grew louder in the wilderness of pre-Independent Saint Lucia.

The first day of April is also ‘All Fools Day’, when people are literally licensed to play any prank on anyone – and get away telling the innocent person fooled ‘Poisson d’Avwi’ and laughing it out together.

Every year, I’m asked why I ‘chose that date’ to ‘start any job’; and this year an esteemed friend wrote in a shared online platform: ‘Congrats! In retrospect, that decision was in no way influenced by today’s date…’

However, my job anniversary is always just another day in the life of a journalist, so I woke up that morning browsing (as per usual) the day’s News of the World, from the Global North and South, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Monday morning’s news included that Canadian troops were in Jamaica to train Caribbean troops for ‘peace-keeping in Haiti’, Israel puled-out of Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital after destroying it over two weeks and killing over 400 Palestinians and the Foreign Affairs Ministers of China and France met in Beijing to discuss future ties after six decades.

I was startled a few hours later by a brief item that appeared in my WhatsApp mail headlined: ‘BREAKING NEWS item from Dominica: After leading a delegation to China, Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit has announced his resignation and has named Hon. Vince Henderson as his successor.’

The item, with photos of PM Skerrit and Mr Henderson, was forwarded to me by a usually-reliable Dominican friend-of-yore, who also happens to be very-close to the four-times re-elected Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leader, who took office in 2004 at age 31, as the youngest CARICOM leader – ever.

The journalist in me immediately called my friend and asked: ‘What’s happening? Your PM tired?’

My friend laughed-out-loud, but considering this ‘lol’ was no joking matter, I then asked: ‘What’s so funny?’

And the child in him replied: ‘Poisson d’Avwi! I have one on you…’

I exhaled – with a loud-enough expletive – and I grudgingly laughed…

Later, yet another headline caught my eyes, this one saying Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was accusing the Al Jazeera (AJ) news channel of having ‘participated’ in the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel and encouraged armed attacks on Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers, branding it a ‘terror channel’ and an ‘arm of Hamas’ – and planning to ban the Qatar-based international channel from broadcasting in Israel.

My antennae up from my earlier experience with the false Dominica item, I consulted Mr Google on whether Mr Netanyahu actually said what he was quoted as saying – and there it was: He’d spoken after the Israeli parliament (Knesset) passed a law allowing ministers to ban any media house they considered ‘a threat to national security’.

Once-upon-a-time, journalists and media houses would publish a ‘Correction’ when a mistake is discovered or proven, or – at worse – a repeated ‘Apology’.

But not anymore…

Fake News became a virtual and actual universal reality during and since Donald Trump’s four-year Presidency – so-much-so, that CNN developed a ‘Fact Checker’, the BBC introduced ‘BBC Verify’ and The Poynter Institute established ‘PolitiFact’, all to help guide viewers, readers and listeners wade through facts and fiction.

Fake News is now sanctified with phrases coined to simply con people with ‘Half Truths’ and ‘Alternative Facts’, in the name of ‘Free Speech’.

However, this in an age when wars are fought with drones, in a world where IT and AI are used to program robots to host press conferences, when GPT is used to create images of people doing and saying things they never did – like Donald Trump promoting his Second Coming with fake images of him meeting Black Americans who never met him, or ever existed – and reality is being augmented according to determined images.

In Haiti, news agencies from the Global North are manipulating the vast divide between truth and lies to dominate the narrative and paint all who oppose any type of foreign intervention as supportive of so-called ‘Gang Leaders seeking power in a failed state’ – and therefore ‘needing outside help’, from friends and enemies alike.

Throughout Monday, even while feverishly fingering this article into my computer’s keyboard, I repeatedly asked myself whether I was guilty of what one friend earlier described as ‘Trying to crack a peanut with a sledgehammer.’

I might very-well have been guilty-as-charged in this case, as I grew-up at a time when ‘All Fools Day’ was an annual jest between children of the early-to-mid-20th Century – today’s new ‘older generation’.

But today also, leaders do overreact to headlines and verbal wars are waged online over unverified media reports.

It’s therefore important for the likes of WhatsApp and Caribbean service providers like FLOW and Digicel, to apply – in the Caribbean – the same principles they apply to handling online information about Gaza and Ukraine, by also immediately fact-checking and also immediately taking-down false Caribbean news.

Fooling-around with Fake News is as dangerous today as deliberately misleading, making falsities believable – and believed – in the real world.

No platform dedicated to Truth should entertain global circulation of untruths (like Monday’s Dominica prank) that can have international repercussions where ‘All Fools Day’ isn’t part of the national cultural fabric.

The item turned ‘All Fools Day’ into a day-long nightmare for Prime Minister Skerrit, who had to assure callers of import, from near and far, that it was Fake News.

But it also justified the need for the permanent ‘Operation Truth’ called for by media voices from the Global South in Havana in January, now reflected in a special new Prensa Latina (PL) platform called ‘Voces del Sur Global’ (Voices from the Global South!)

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