July 13, 2021
Judicious use of information in the age of social media

THE TRINIDADIAN paramilitary police and the Special Services Unit (SSU) of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force wear different uniforms. Those who were not previously aware of this fact now know because of an embarrassing situation that unfolded in Parliament last week.

At the request of the Parliamentary Representative for Central Kingstown, Parliament was brought to a halt to investigate whether a video he had received of people dressed in military uniforms and dancing with guns was in fact a genuine depiction of disorder and unprofessionalism within the SSU unit of the police. This deception was quickly dispelled and Vincentians can rest easily knowing that our SSU has not debased itself with such flagrant disregard for their uniforms.

However, we should rest less easily with the realisation that we live in the digital age where videos, photographs, audio recordings, etc. can be very easily edited, manipulated or decontextualized to suit particular agendas, shape public opinion and galvanise action. Then due to the power and ubiquitous nature of social media, the deception can within minutes be made available to millions of people around the world, carrying with it the risk of public alarm or damage to individual reputation, among other ills. It is certainly also true that productive exchange of information can and does take place by way of this medium, albeit much more slowly.

Individuals, organisations, political leaders and of course the media itself need to remember that very little can be taken at face value these days. When responding to information shared, particularly by way of social media, it would be wise to adopt an attitude of scepticism and approach all information as provisional until its authenticity is verified by way of a trusted independent source.

We also have a responsibility to be judicious in how we use the information we receive. By hitting the forward button without having first verified the information’s authenticity, we are lending the stamp of our own credibility to what might turn out to be completely false.

As we try to navigate ourselves out of the maze of misinformation and false claims that has enveloped and embedded itself around and within the global Covid19 pandemic, adopting such an attitude will be helpful. Discerning what is the truth is indeed a challenge for many and the frightening thing is that misinformation can literally mean the difference between life and death. In this case, we are all potential victims and need the protection of scepticism, verification and being judicious in how we use information.