ON Thursday, I saw my friend and colleague ‘Coakes’ sitting and sipping cane juice on a bench at our favourite Marisule service provider. I had just sent him a WhatsApp message, so I called to ask him to take a look and share it with the Cane Juice man. He promised to – and we promised to catch up sometime.
On Friday afternoon, I saw Coakes’ father, ex-police superintendent, Gerald Cyril, near my favourite watering-hole by the bay. I told him I’d just spoken to his son less than 24 hours before — and the other Earl in me asked the other Mr. Cyril: “Sarge, is something about to happen, or what?” We both laughed it off…
On Saturday morning, on my way home with the weekend papers, I stopped by the bay to get some coconut water from Big Mama when my fisherman friend Ashton called me aside.
His voice sounding quite concerned, he told me quietly: “I hear something. I don’t know if it’s true because I don’t want nobody to say I say…”
I couldn’t wait, so I egged Ashton on: “What you hear?”
He looked me in the eyes and poured it out: “I know is your friend, but I just hear Coakes died in a major car crash…”
I froze. A lump in my throat, I told him how I’d just seen him two days ago and saw his father yesterday and I never felt it was my last time I would see Coakes.
I pulled my iPhone out to show Ashton I’d just called Coakes recently and as I displayed the number that other Earl inside also told me to call it, as someone just might answer to confirm the bad news.
The phone kept ringing – and then Coakes’ voice came on. I thought it was a recording, but the voice said, “Yeah, Bousquet…”
Much relieved, the real me went into gear: “I suppose a thousand people have made this call this morning, so let me be one thousand and one… What’s that about? You escaped the crash?”
The horror of his alleged death now behind me, Coakes would then tell me an even worse horror story.
“Bousquet,” he said, “this thing is on a fake news website and it is causing real problems. My sister all the way in America heard this thing and they cannot control her yet.”
He continued, “I had to run to my father’s house and tell him before he got that fake news and it kill him. Up to now, many people here and away believe this thing, but it’s all fake news.”
I assured Ashton that Coakes was alive and well and there was never any accident – and the typical Ashton smiled as he told me: “I sure Coakes and Iglesia will make a comedy on this one…”
But, I told him, “This Fake News thing is no joke!”
I told him that back in 1996 when the Internet was just breaking in to the Caribbean, the main concern was about children having access to pornographic websites; and calls for Morality Policing of the Internet, if only to ‘protect’ children.
The discussion back then was more about Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Expression, Censorship and Choice. But ‘Fake News’? The term just didn’t exist because no one entertained even the thought that anyone would want to use the Internet to spread false news in the name of real news.
Enter President Donald Trump – and Fake News not just only comes to life, but becomes an accepted term to describe an accepted product: lies sold as truth, untruths wrapped in decorative words.
I actually read some amazing stories during the last US election campaign about both Trump and Hillary Clinton that turned out to be total untruths — written and presented as if they were true.
Trump both benefited from and got hit by the real Fake News outlets – and his own flirtations with the truth led to the US media’s invention of another new term ‘Post Truth’ to describe things the president said that were not true, without calling him a liar.
I was nearly shocked that I lived to see false news being publicly offered as truth, leading to the creation of that other term ‘Fact Checking’ – the process now being highly recommended for readers everywhere to be able to tell if any story is true, no matter where it is published, including the mainstream media.
But while I have learned not to be too shocked about anything happening in America in these Trump days, I never expected to see or hear about a Fake News website operating in Saint Lucia – at least, not so soon.
On Sunday, my friend Richmond in Canada posted the thread to the entire Fake News story about Coakes to me by WhatsApp and asked: “Is that true?”
I guess he was ‘Fact-checking’ with me, so I was pleased to reply with two words: Fake News!
But, given our national obsession with deaths making daily and nightly headlines, I suspect Coakes will not be the last victim of such fake news here.
What next? A website with fake death announcements? Who knows?