True or False? Verifying internet reportage

Report on my appearance on BBC World Have Your Say, the Shirley Sherrod case

Yesterday was a busy day and there was more than one reason i was glad  i had the good sense to turn back from Reggae Sumfest and return to Kingston the day before. The following tweet should give you some idea of the first good reason:
endzoftheearth Organisers need to do something abt the mud! Stones, grAvel, cardbord boxes, plywood – something #sumfestismudfest.
Being rained on all night long in a mud lake i can do without.

The other good reason was that i got a good night’s sleep and was able to compile the first report on Reggae Sumfest Dancehall Night by anyone anywhere by 9 am on Friday morning. And the reward for that came in the number of hits i got on this new blog platform I’ve been trying so hard to get people to visit.

Shirley Sherrod

The third good reason was that i was able to accept the BBC World Have Your Say programme’s invitation to participate in their globally aired discussion on internet rights and wrongs emanating from the firing and subsequent re-hiring of American civil servant Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod had allegedly made ‘racist’ remarks in a two minute video clip that later turned out to have been edited in a way that removed the context of her 43 minute speech. Whose responsibility is it to verify the reliability of material such as this? On whom should the burden of proof fall and thereby the penalty for purveying such misinformation? Is information transmitted via social media such as YouTube or Twitter making us ‘jump the gun’ as Obama said when the White House was forced to apologize to Sherrod and offer her another job?

As Obama put it “we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles.” The word for this is ‘blogswarm’.

So does the internet make us too quick to judge? Or is there wisdom in the blogswarm? asked BBC WHYS and the discussion that followed was a rich one that i was glad to be a part of. Also participating were former journalist Nigel Morgan of Morgan PR from Redding,UK, UK Guardian columnist, American Mike Tomasky, who is also  editor of Democracy journal. Other participants included Andrew Keene, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values, blogger Lola Adesioye from the US and Owais Ehsan, student of mass media and a blogger at Pro-Pakistan, in Islamabad.

The discussion was a lively one and was further enlivened by a caller from Jamaica, Omar, who made the point that it’s not only national media or internet bloggers that are guilty of posting misinformation but also international corporations; in Jamaica’s  2007 general elections, he claimed the BBC attributed something on their website to then Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller without verifying the accuracy of their source.

It’s true that the rapidly proliferating use of social media frequently lends itself to distortions and misrepresentations. For instance in my blogpost on Reggae Sumfest yesterday in which i was relying on tweets from the location for information i think i misinterpreted a tweet about Bounty’s ‘state of urgency utterance, and presented it in a particular way because of that. I thought he was castigating the government for the prolonged State of Emergency and recommending that they have a state of urgency instead about other crucial unmet needs when it turns out that he supported the SOE and was urging the government to go further by declaring a ‘state of urgency’ “towards correcting the ills that had been meted out to the people of Jamaica by successive governments” to quote Gleaner writer Janet Silvera in her article Bounty preaches change.

Rodney ‘Bounty Killer’ Pryce displays his award at the Sumfest show at Catherine Hall in Montego Bay on Thursday, which was designated Dancehall Night. The organisers of the event gave Pryce the award for his contribution to Reggae Sumfest. – Photo by adrian frater

The point i want to make is that while social media may sometimes tend to be less than reliable, it also allows faulty information to be corrected before serious damage is done provided the source is above board,  has no ulterior motive and is willing to make the necessary changes. This surely would be the case with most bloggers, tweeters and others whose popularity depends on the quality of what they put out.

For the others, that is those who deliberately put out misinformation for propaganda purposes, and have no intention of retrieving the situation–in this case, Andrew Breitbart— a blacklist or some other form of aggressive disincentive should be developed.

Click on the following link if you want to hear the whole discussion. Does the internet mean we’re too quick to judge?

Scoop! State of Urgency–Reggae Sumfest 2010 rocked!

First account of Dancehall Night Reggae Sumfest 2010. Vybz Kartel appears in prison suit and handcuffs. Bounty Killer calls for State of Urgency from government, as opposed to State of Emergency and vuvuzelas abounded…

DESERT CLARKS, EVRY CREP A GET FLING WEH!! Photo: @SugaTwitts

Right about now people are waking up and wondering how Sumfest 2010 went last night. Were there any brawls? Did Vybz destroy it? Was Bounty Killer cross, angry and miserable enough? Well folks i wasn’t there but i can give you the scoop on all this and more…

Actually i was supposed to be there. I even got as far as Falmouth with my par Hubert but the relentless rain got on our nerves and we decided to beat it back to Kingston. Luckily various attempts to buy tickets in advance had failed so it wasn’t an expensive decision (what’s with York Pharmacy insisting on cash only and then not having VIP tickets?? And why use Acropolis as a ticket outlet when it doesn’t open before lunchtime?)

Badd Girl Cecile at Sumfest. Photo: Marcia Forbes

Anyway i hit my comfortable bed in Kingston around 11 pm last night after seeing a tweet or two about Cecile’s performance. @marciaforbes reported that there was also a “Sumfest Lighter Tribute to O’Neil of Voicemail. About a dozen young men in white sing for O’Neil–Very touching!!” Woke up this morning and tuned in to find out that Miss Fluffy Kitty and Spice had had a “fluffy versus slim gal wining contest” with some help from Pamputtae. According to @marciaforbes “Spice [was] led on stage by Tivoli Demonstration ‘caz ppl are deading’ ‘Bruce me just want to ask u if Tivoli duppy dem don’t haunt u’.

Remaining two members of Voicemail, Craig Jackson, Kevin Blaire Photo: @itscraigyo
Craig Jackson @itscraigyo!!: @SugaTwitts

One of the highlights of the show was Kartel’s appearance dressed as a prisoner complete with handcuffs which had to be unlocked before he could perform, a literal reference to his arrest and two-week detention by security forces who claimed he was a ‘person of interest’ during the State of Emergency that ended at midnight last night. All i want to say on the SOE is that it’s remarkable that it’s always a DJ or some hapless individual from downtown that’s arrested as a person of interest, apparently the Jamaican middle classes and elites are composed exclusively of saints and angels.

Kartel Vybz Kartel in bright orange 'prison clothes' complete with handcuff. Photo: Marcia Forbes

According to @marciaforbes “Pure Police n Soldiers surround[ed] the entire backstage during Kartel’s performance ” and pandemonium and vuvuzelas greeted Kartel as he entered the Sumfest stage. She went on to tweet that the backstage security during Kartel’s performance was unprecedented. You have to wonder what exactly they were worried might happen!

Morning light, @iamthekartel closing the show. Oh! Ahoe! #sumfest Photo: @SugaTwitts

Bounty Killer (whose night it undoubtedly was) put it well when he said that the government needed ‘a state of urgency’ rather than a State of Emergency. Reggae Sumfest 2010 is mourning the untimely passing of pioneer Sugar Minott and Oniel Edwards of Voice Mail; Dancehall Night also celebrated the career of the redoubtable Bounty Killer, the paradigmatic Warlord of dancehall, the voice of the soil of Jamaica as he is sometimes called, a veteran who has not only towered over the landscape of dancehall for two decades but also launched the careers of a platoon of younger DJs including Vybz Kartel and Mavado.

Warlord a talk di tings tonight!!! #sumfest tunnnn upppp!!! Photo: @SugaTwitts
GULLY GAADDDD!! #mavado #sumfest Photo: @SugaTwitts
Mavado and Wayne Marshall doing You're Messing with my Heart Photo: @SugaTwitts
Movado shellin down di place! Photo: KueSound
Reggae Sumfest (Vybz Kartel and Russian) Photo: NotniceRecords

All in all it looks like it was a stellar Dancehall Night. I missed it but i lived it vicariously via Twitter. Special thanks to @SugaTwitts for the best photos, @marciaforbes and @DougiePlatinum for providing me with fodder for this post. @marciaforbes was womanning the Phase3 production centre below.

Phase 3 console

My Favourite tweet:

anthonyhaley Just put @ladymycherie to bed. She & our son-to-be did Dancehall night all the way through Adi Teacha. Teach them young they say! #sumfest