In the era of social media, conspiracy theories, misinformation and information manipulation have been ratcheted up because these platforms can easily facilitate and widely disseminate information—real or fake. This was no more obvious than in last year’s U.S. presidential election and the aftermath.
Jamaica, unfortunately, is not insulated from the devastating effects of fake news on social media. In fact, there’s a recent increase of false social media posts about crime on the island that are creating unnecessary alarm within the diaspora and may discourage travel.
Whatever their motivation, some people are bent on creating unnecessary alarm and have resorted, over the past several weeks, to posting videos of criminal activities in Jamaica. Others have posted voice notes telling of gruesome incidents of crimes. But it turns out most of these posting on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and mostly on WhatsApp, are fake.
Last Sunday it was accurately reported that Harry “Harry Dog” McLeod, said to have been a close associate of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, former West Kingston don, currently incarcerated in the U.S., was gunned down in West Kingston.
On Monday morning, a video circulated widely on WhatsApp, and other social media platforms, of an intense gun battle with what sounded like machine-gun fire. Captions accompanying the post claimed it was a gang-related gun battle in West Kingston purportedly in response to “Harry Dog’s” killing. Throughout Monday, there were various fake posts of the “gang battle” in West Kingston, including a report that buses were being sent to downtown Kingston for residents to leave the area because of threats of escalating violence.
But these postings were lies—blatant, deliberate lies.
Yet, because they were posted on social media, which Lilly Myers, a former Jamaican teacher residing in Sunrise, refers to as “the liard (sic) media” most people believe these posts are true.
Claudette, a Jamaican-American, called CNW in a panicked voice asking, “What is going on in Jamaica?” in reference to the fake West Kingston video. It took some difficulty to convince her the social media postings were lies. On advising her to always check the sources of these social media posts, she exclaimed “But, mi see the news pon WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram. How all a them can a tell lie?”
Therein lies the problem. Because a particular piece of misinformation is posted on multiple platforms, with people seeing it over and over, they begin to believe it’s valid.
According to the Jamaican media, the false postings of intense shooting between rival gangs in West Kingston resulted in a drastic decline in sales at the Coronation Market and the Oxford Mall Arcade located in West Kingston, with shoppers reluctant to shop in West Kingston.
But, according to the report, residents of the community said although there was some tension following “Harry Dog’s” shooting, there was no evidence of any gang war retaliation.
The report also indicated “a high-level police force” as saying many far-fetched claims were made on social media following the death of “Harry Dog,” and while the police are not taking anything for granted the police urged the public not to absorb everything they see or hear on social media. The police source also indicated the posted video of the alleged West Kingston shootout, was an old video of an event in the rural parish of Clarendon.
Several Jamaicans living in South Florida told CNW that despite the “new challenges” to travel to Jamaica because of the COVID-19 travel requirements, they are still willing to go home, but are weary of the preponderance of negative news related to crime in Jamaica posted on social media.
“Almost every day there are videos of some kind of criminal activity in Jamaica posted on social media. And, many people keep posting voicemails of their unsubstantiated version related to criminal activities. These posts are damaging Jamaica’s reputation badly,” said Victor Morant, a Southwest Miami businessman who travels to Jamaica regularly. “But when you are in Jamaica you find its relatively peaceful. You only hear news of criminal activity on the local news. There’s no widespread criminal activity to create fear.”
A senior staff member of Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security, requesting anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media, nonetheless told CNW, “The escalation of fake social media posts, mostly downright lies related to crime in Jamaica, is making the work of the ministry more challenging than it already is. We receive calls, almost daily, from concerned Jamaicans living overseas inquiring about crime in the country. These people need to realize most of these social media posts are lies. Please spread the word. Tell your readers to stop trusting everything they see posted on social media about crime in Jamaica.”