Noble: A week of misinformation; how Chamber, UK MP and anonymous tweets added to ‘noise’

There appears to be broad agreement that the economic challenges, in the wake of Covid-19, are enormous.

Facing a precipitous export earnings decline of 41% (roughly $10B in the last year), we should all be thinking about how to navigate the future: how to make the most of what we have, or whether will we descend into chaos.

Image: A satirical view on Covid-19 and the economy.

Will we all seek to defraud the state not realising that we are the state, or are we going to become innovative? Truth, as expressed in our reality, is not always what we would want it to be, but it remains compelling. We have to deal with it.

In the last few weeks, we have seen the mainstreaming of disinformation—information spread with a deliberate intent to influence and deceive people, often used to achieve a political end.

We saw two tweets from a random source, with no discernible history in epidemiology, claiming that the Ministry of Health was ‘hiding’ data about the coronavirus. Nobody questioned their credentials, even though they are unknown and had no other tweets, but we gave life to their voice, by retweeting and giving valuable column inches.

In short order, we blissfully supported a xenophobic UK parliamentarian who said that our people should be let back into our country. We never stopped to examine his voting record and instead allowed him to claim the position that he is ‘compassionate’.

Nothing in his voting record suggests that he has a sympathetic bone in him. But he suits the purpose of attempting to leverage the repatriation issue. Nothing here should be interpreted as being against the need to return our citizens as quickly as possible but certainly that does not give us the right to side with such an awful man. 

Photo: Steve Baker is a British Conservative politician and Member of Parliament (MP) for Wycombe.

The minister of trade, in speaking about our need to rein in our food import bill during the budget debate, pointed to a $1 billion expenditure in cereal imports. Within hours, ‘cereal’ became ‘breakfast cereals’, setting us off to a heated but misguided discussion. 

Nobody, not even esteemed economists, stopped to consider how silly this interpretation of ‘cereals’ was. Yet there was zero discussion about how and why our food imports skyrocketed in the 2010 -2014 period and how we may further reduce it.

Trust in each other (and in science and facts) is the victim. We become suspicious of every headline. When disinformation and misinformation are slickly packaged in catchy headlines and memes, they go viral and the truth which is usually more nuanced cannot catch up. The noise level, ginned up by those who wish to deceive, drowns out the truth which is often more prosaic.

Social media through micro-targeting also allows these operatives to sidle up and whisper into the ears of unsuspecting folk who then pass on the messy melange. The objective? To get us bone-weary. Helpless. Vulnerable. 

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(via PNM)

Our leaders are not helping us to have the mature dialogue needed to chart the course. The prime minister, in his annual trip to Piggott’s Corner, resorted to comments that were destined to divide. When a commentator objected, the PNM Women’s League wielded a broad brush, tarring all who would deign to question.

The goal of keeping us all on board dissipates in such an environment. The ability to create a Parliamentary special majority to achieve important objectives is severely compromised.

We are daily stunned by our elites, political and judicial, sparring in ways that belie the weight of their offices and the risks that face us. Elections are over. Work on charting our future confronts us.

The Chamber, arguing for the reopening of restaurants and bars, gave life to an unsubstantiated claim that our food service sector employs 100,000 persons. In 2017, the official number was 57,000. How is this action different from the unscrupulous landlords of May 2020?

We manipulate numbers to argue for our point while condemning others who do the same. Again, this is not an argument about whether the sector with its dine-in options should be reopened. This is about not wielding misinformation.

Photo: A restaurant employee sanitises the bar during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Chamber needs to implement its January 2020 editorial, which quoted Joseph Schumpeter: ‘the fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumer goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organisations…’

The Chamber appears unwilling to prod its members to engage in ‘creative destruction’ and face the changed world—they simply want Dr Rowley and the Ministry of Health to ‘open up’. No sense of personal responsibility that they often urge the poor to have.

Have they urged their members to do more than merely bolt on a digital appearance? Should they be a group of archaic thinkers, still seeking a ‘Kodak moment’ when the world has moved on to ‘selfies’? How different are they to the trade unions that are often criticised?

We, as a nation, have to accept our reality as it is. The world has changed. There is much to do. If we are serious about diversifying the economy and taking on the world so as to gain much needed foreign exchange, then we have to deal in facts.

We have to get both our political parties to back the reimagined Central Statistical Office with access to all our sources of information, including customs and tax information. Without understanding our economy, we are playing with lives and wasting our money.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2020)

We have to engage the young in creating new paths. We must reconfigure our educational system. Nothing less would do. Our very lives literally depend on this.

Brave hearts are needed to identify and act on the core needs that are present. 

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