Beware the wrong and strong
These days everybody wants to be a journalist. Every little man with a cell phone and a Facebook account wants to be the one to tell the story first. And he spares no gory detail and has no difficulty filling in the blanks with his own creative version of the truth.
I got a frantic phone call on Thursday that a man, after vomiting for an hour, had died in a hotel room in Montego Bay from Ebola, and that no one knew what to do next. I took the message with a massive grain of salt because, only a week before, the same person had told me that the Jamaica Defence Force had a man (whom he identified by name), in quarantine because he had just come back from West Africa and was showing definite signs of Ebola.
I also got a third-party voice note from the United States on Saturday and it said: "Just got some news a while ago. We have to be careful, people. There's a confirmed Ebola case in Jamaica."
The person in the voice note then went on to add credible meat to her story, saying a long-standing radio personality had interviewed a worker from the hotel in question on his show and she corroborated the story.
When the pretty little liars tell their story, you would believe that they were there. They were the bellhops who carried the Ebola-stricken visitor's bags and they were the ones who had to dodge the projectile vomit. I was tempted to slap not only the creator of the voice note, but also the person who sent it to me. I'm a television presenter who lives in Jamaica. You think if that story were true I wouldn't already know about it? Mr Bearer of Bad News, you live in the States. Ebola is closer to you than it is to me. Worry 'bout yuself!
We are a sadistic bunch. It's like people want something to go wrong just so they have a story to tell. And the more doom and gloom involved in the story, the better. Old time people say, "If it nuh go so, it go suppm like so". True as that may be, the consequences of your half-truths have far-reaching implications for an entire nation and the panic you create only makes things worse.
My own mistake
My biggest regret to date working on television was perpetuating a lie against someone I actually respect and hold her craft in high regard. I recounted on TV an untrue story that was told to me by someone else, and to this day, I could kick myself. I apologised both privately and on air and we both have since moved on, but I still wish I had acted more responsibly. I've learnt my lesson.
The stories are one thing, the pictures and videos are another.
Why would you take a picture of mangled bodies in a car accident, and post it on Facebook? Do we need to see the beheaded woman's corpse in her front yard? When you share the video of the children having sex, you really feel you are doing something good?
And to appease their consciences, they caption posts with commentary like, "Oh gosh, look wah dem do the woman", or "Jesus help these little children", failing to see the part they play in the infinite damage machinery.
Not once or twice have gruesome pictures made the social media rounds and got right back to already-grieving family members. Worse, some have found out about their loss because of an insensitive BlackBerry broadcast message. What if the headless woman were your mother? What if the child having sex were yours? Would you spread the videos around and say, "People look pon dis. Oonu pray fi me"?
I have unfriended many on Facebook who felt the need to share such material with me and I stand ready to remove many more from my life.
The most disheartening thing about all this is that the storytellers have convinced themselves that they are doing a public service; that passing that picture around is a public show of and rally for pity. I propose that the action is just to satisfy your sick, insatiable appetite to be the storyteller; a shot at relevance. Stop spreading untruths and relishing in people's misfortune and get a life!