Tue | Jan 23, 2018

Cops combat ‘fake news’ - Resources stretched as police check false claims

Published:Sunday | February 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
Assistant Commissioner of Police Ealan Powell

The leadership of the police force is getting increasingly frustrated over the recent increase in the number of fictitious stories (fake news) being posted on social media, and the public panic they have caused.

Already stretched thin by the number of crimes they have to investigate, the undermanned police force now finds itself having to out fires started by anonymous persons who post these fake stories online.

"Fake news has become a very big challenge. It is having an impact on the society and it is driving a lot of fear and providing a lot of false information that people are believing to be fact," bemoaned Supt Stephanie Lindsay, head of the Corporate Communications Network, during a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday.

"It is overwhelming the police services and creating an impression that the sky is falling, and also that the police are not able to respond when, in fact, there is nothing to respond to," added Lindsay.




She pointed to the recent social media reports of organ-harvesting in Jamaica, which caused panic here and abroad and was among those fake stories which the police have been forced to divert investigators to probe.

"We checked with the people who deal with post-mortems and they reported that they have not received any body without organs," Lindsay told Gleaner editors and reporters.

Assistant Commissioner Ealan Powell, who heads the crime portfolio, echoed Lindsay's concerns.

"When these things happen, the police start divesting the resources that are very important to these things. And right now I am in the process of writing protocols for the management of those issues," said Powell, as he pointed out that videos of rape incidents that occurred years ago are somehow turning up on social media today.

Powell urged members of the public to be wary of the lengths some persons will go to in order to make their misinformation seem believable, as he pointed to the actions of one of the organ-harvesting propagandists as an example.

"He comes in the video with a stethoscope around his neck, trying to authenticate his position as a doctor, and then he is the one warning about the organ-harvesting," said Powell.

"Somebody looking at that will say 'well, this was said by a person of authority,' when he is not," continued Powell.

According to Powell, the police believe the man does not live in Jamaica, and that is why he has not yet been arrested and charged with creating public mischief.

Thirty-five-year-old Amieka Mullings was not so lucky. She was arrested and charged last week under the Cybercrimes Act after she allegedly posted pictures on social media of a man she said was wanted for rape, assault and murder.

Montague announced last Friday that two other persons are also close to being charged in connection with fake news posted on social media.

Under the Cybercrimes Act, it is illegal to use a computer or any similar device to wilfully send another person any data that intends to cause, or is reckless as to whether the sending of the data causes annoyance, distress or anxiety.

A person could be fined up to $4 million or imprisoned for such offences.