Over time, I’ve developed a high degree of skepticism. Years of dealing officially with people who have strong interests in hiding information have taught me to at least double check what is presented as facts.

Internet access and social media, specifically, have opened up a flood of false reports, in part because people get a buzz from being part of breaking stories, but also because some like being disruptive and misinformation is another ‘toy’ in their arsenal; some also don’t know how to verify information and rather than being seen as passive or not caring, they will share indiscriminately. At its extreme, there’s just fabricated information. Often, there’s misinformation that gets spread with good intentions but without any serious checking. Sadly, we all have to be the filters. Other than hoping that everyone checks before pressing ‘forward’ or ‘retweet’, I’m not sure what exhortations one can offer.

This is a constant concern, but it sometimes hits home more when one reads or sees something that palpably false. Add to this, technology that allows creation of false images or videos that are not truthful. (The BBC drama ‘The Capture’ is a scary crime story based on fabricated CCTV footage.) Yet, we are often comfortable that what we see and hear should be believed.

If you’ve any experience with photography you’ll know how easy it is to convey false narratives with images, just by simply choosing a particular perspective from which to film.

For my own sanity, I trust few things on first take and often rewatch to see if I note signs of splicing, shifting of angles, etc. That’s harder with amateur videos, say, that purport to be ‘live’ action, with its shakiness, etc. But, I often look for tell-tale lies, such as signs or evidence to disprove a certain claim regarding location or timing. I saw one video of a robbery in Jamaica where the vehicles in the footage were driving on the right side of the road–we drive on the left. Without sound, eg foreign voices or accents, one can easiy be fooled. A video of police allegedly beating a young man in Kingston was circulated at the weekend, and is now being investigate by the JCF. However, one of my first thoughts was to recall reports of people dressing as police to perpetrate crimes. That is not a new story (see ‘Beware of criminals in cop clothes‘ reported in 2015, and convictions of people impersonating police officers). As I noted to a fellow blogger, yesterday, I was also intrigued initially by the seeming lack of concern by the alleged policemen given that it was clear that people were using phones to capture their actions. This incident, first shown in a 30 second video on social media, was followed by much longer video versions of the incident (WARNING: VIOLENCE & OBSCENE LANGUAGE).

We’re seeing many more instances of ‘citizen journalism’ and flitering is often harder because the initial intent is usually just a personal recording that then turns into something more interesting, especially if the incident shows apparent law breaking. At its more amusing and less harmful are the plethora of pet and children videos. At its more disturbing are the CCTV images captured of crimes or misdeeds, eg inside people’s homes by caregivers or inside instutitions where responsible caregivers are seen to be abusers.

But, it’s a set of difficult paths to tread. We’re finding in Jamaica that well-intentioned video taping of traffic infractions may be less useful if the person recording is not prepared to be publicly associated with it, for a bunch of understandable reasons (reprisals, collusion, etc). Each person has to find his/her own comfort level. We do know, however, that video evidence has not eliminated misdeeds, most vividly in the case of police officers wearing bodycams or using vehicles equipped with dashcams, which are then the source of corroborating evidence. The Brookings Institute (2017) study, ‘Do body-worn cameras improve police behavior?‘, stated ‘The behavior of officers who wore cameras all the time was indistinguishable from the behavior of those who never wore cameras…Those officers may become more likely to use force when they know camera footage will demonstrate the facts were on their side.’ 

So, we’re left with another puzzle to solve in the Internet age.