‘Fact-checking’ has become an indispensable feature of the media in the United States because of the apparent tendency of the Trump administration to stray from the facts or ignore them.
The American media is able to respond quickly because in that society and indeed other developed societies, history is preserved and is made accessible.
The preservation of history and heritage is accomplished in a variety of ways – libraries, museums, heritage buildings – and using various media – books, videos, paintings – which are carefully archived (now digitally) and made accessible to everyone.
Some histories are painful. The Jewish holocaust occurred less than 100 years ago. Apartheid in South Africa was ended only 30 years ago after decades of political and military struggle. The transportation and enslavement of millions of Africans took place over two centuries and its traumatic effects on the descendants of both masters and slaves are evident today.
For us West Indians, with our own histories of colonialism, slavery and indentureship, the past can be, as Professor Paula Morgan describes, “…an unendurable pain which intrudes in an obtrusive and unseemly manner into the present”. The late Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott had written about our “amnesia”, our preference for thinking of the past “as better forgotten”.
Reliving and understanding our past histories is important to understanding our present condition and to creating and shaping our future. The objective is not to feel again the lash of the whip or the embarrassment of colonial discrimination and bigotry, but to ensure that we remain centred in the values we embrace and the principles which guide our behaviours today so that as a society we do not veer off course and find ourselves once again in a place where inequity and violence are inflicted on some of us by others who come to believe they are superior or better than the rest of us.
Without memory, without an appreciation of history, without respect for facts, it is easy for us to believe the untruths, half-truths and the misinformation peddled on social media wittingly or unwittingly by ‘friends’ on Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter.
The revelations of how Russian trolls used social media to place stories and videos so as to influence opinion in the American elections last year are instructive. And we know now that the organisations which used data analytics to identify the American voters targeted by such action, experimented with their techniques right here in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Catholic News is celebrating its 125th Anniversary and has now placed all of its issues on an online digital archive, preserving those memories and histories and making them accessible to future generations.
In three weeks, on Saturday, November 18, the Catholic News will be hosting a symposium on ‘The Pursuit of Truth in an Age of Fake News’. The symposium will interrogate the phenomenon of social media and what this now means for the pursuit of truth and the concomitant need to check the ‘facts’ which are disseminated on social media.
It will also discuss whether social media does not indeed represent an opportunity for the Church, amid the cacophony of memes and fake news, to project a voice of reason, of commitment to ecumenism, diversity and dialogue, and of the enduring need for the love of neighbour.