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Abuse of social media

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The latest tragedy at sea, (the Coastguard was still heading the search for six missing persons in the Grenadines), put a dampener on celebrations to mark the conclusion of Fisherman’s Day on Monday of this week,

but also resulted in the postponement of the next sitting of Parliament. Throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines, there has been an outpouring of concern for the safety of the missing persons.

But among the positive sides displayed, there have also been negatives. Vincentians have long had a penchant for rumours and this was again manifested during the agonizing search, with some persons, perhaps trying to impress with “being in the know”, spreading false information as to how the search was progressing, as well as even saying how the boat happened to get in trouble. Just how they obtained this misinformation is beyond imagination, but many gullible folk believe these hearsay theories.

To make matters worse, we are now in the age of modern telecommunication and Facebook has taken over our country by storm. So, it is through that medium that the rumours are flying, the danger being that there are many persons who consider Facebook to be something akin to a modern Bible. Those who do so show no sensitivity to the feeling of the families desperately hanging on to hope for the safety of their loved ones. Indeed, one family member had to appeal on television for the “Facebook journalists” to stop posting RIPs prematurely on the Internet!

These incidents merely serve to highlight a very worrying trend in our society, that of the misuse and abuse of the Internet and social media in particular. It is not something that is confined or unique to St Vincent and the Grenadines, but we sure have gotten a good dose of it. Every day, whether it is about an accident, some sexual misdemeanour, or even politics, the social media, and Facebook in particular, is full of stories. With the ready availability of smart phones these days, Facebook has become a rumour-monger’s paradise.

The extent of Internet penetration and access to mobile phones is certainly a positive development in such a small, poor, underdeveloped country like ours. But the pity is that not enough persons are using these for their own development and advancement, and by extension, that of the country as a whole. The negative traits we had of spreading rumours and unsubstantiated information have been multiplied a million-fold with our access to the modern technology, to the extent that we seem to spend more time in trivia than in uplifting and educating ourselves.

In this age of “Breaking News”, we spend so much time catching up with “the latest”, that we are overwhelmed with information and have precious little time for analysis. It is one thing to get information; quite another to understand its implications and to be able to make good use of that information gathered. In my humble opinion, that is one of our biggest weaknesses, where utilization of modern technology is concerned. Allied with it has come the laziness to go beyond the Google and Facebook and to make reading an integral part of us. If there is a serious area of retrogression in our society, it is in this area. We have, collectively, a major challenge to face.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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