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Tread carefully with fake news clampdown, warns Harriott - Crime researcher urges cops not to make citizens feel unappreciated

Published:Monday | February 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Prof. Anthony Harriott.

While not diminishing the frustration faced by members of the police force as they deal with emerging incidents of 'fake news', Professor Anthony Harriott, crime researcher and director of the Institute of Criminal Justice at the University of the West Indies, has cautioned that in combating the issue, citizens should not be made to feel unappreciated.

The leadership of the police force has expressed frustration over the recent increase in the number of fictitious stories being posted on social media and the public panic they have caused. They pointed out that it is also against the background that the force is already stretched thin by the number of crimes they have to investigate.

The criminologist, however, advised that the citizenry is an important element in fighting crime, and as such, there should be a renewed focus on sensitising citizens to be responsible.




"We can't take the public out of it and expect to win. If you have this alert and engage citizens, people are going to run with rumour and you are going to get some false news. However, we shouldn't approach the issue in a way that puts a damper on the engagement of the ordinary citizen. You just have to encourage people to be responsible, wise, and to check some of these things before they post," he said.

"My thinking is that people mean well. They post a lot of warnings, and so forth, and that's a way of expressing their interest in the safety of their fellow citizens. I think that's an important element in helping to bring the crime situation in the country in check," Harriott told The Gleaner.

He added: "You want to encourage people to have an interest in the welfare and safety of their fellow citizens and we have to understand that they are not going to get it right every time. The engagement must be appreciated and encouraged. What we need to do is to encourage persons to be responsible, check, [and] ask questions about things before they post."