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PM urged to be careful in response to misinformation challenge

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, addressing a JLP Youth Conference in St. Ann on Saturday, June 22; Lloyd B Smith, reacting to the PM, and Information Minister Dana Morris Dixon, speaking on Beyond the Headlines
 
 
Prime Minister Andrew Holness is being urged to be cautious in his attempt to clampdown on misinformation.
 
Lloyd B Smith, a publisher and former MP, believes the crackdown could infringe the right to freedom of speech. 
 
His comment follows the Prime Minister's recent warning that the government intends to take action against those spreading falsehoods and those who continue to tarnish the reputations of others with "fake news" on social media.
 
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, speaking at a Jamaica Labour Party Youth Conference in the constituency of St. Ann North East, last Saturday, claimed that young people, many of them associated with the People's National Party, were being "used to manipulate social media to comment on posts negatively, to spread rumours about people, to do some really nasty things."
 
Confirming that his administration has been "tracking" these posts, he told his audience that "you're going to see some actions very shortly, for those persons who are using social media" for such purposes.
 
Remedy
 
While acknowledging the legitimacy of the Prime Minister's concern, Mr Smith contends that adequate remedy is already available under the country's defamation law and other statutes.
 
Outside of those legal provisions, he contends that there's need for the exercise of principled political leadership to curb the practices highlighted by Mr Holness.
 
"One of the problems I have is leadership from both the Prime Minister himself and the Leader of the Opposition, both of whom, from time to time, also dabble in what I would call the lowest common multiple," Mr Smith charged. 
 
PNP
 
The opposition People's National Party [PNP] has also responded strongly to the Prime Minister's declaration of intent to clamp down on 'fake news' on social media, labeling it a threat to free expression and privacy.
 
Opposition Spokesperson on Information Nekeisha Burchell, in a press release on the matter, acknowledged that addressing misinformation is crucial, but she contends that the Prime Minister's approach is a dangerous overreach, that could undermine democratic principles and constitutional rights. 
 
Miss Burchell says recent statements by some government officials are indicative of an assault on democracy and privacy.
 
She's also claimed that Prime Minister Holness is engaging in "selective outrage" for ignoring "fake news" spread by his own party members, particularly about the Leader of the Opposition. 
 
Miss Burchell wants the government to clarify its policy, ensuring transparency and accountability with all individuals being held to the same standard to prevent abuse of power.
 
"This blatant double standard exposes the government's inability to enforce policies impartially," she claimed.
 
She asserted, in her statement, that the PNP staunchly defends democratic values and constitutional rights and, in keeping with those principles wants the government to reconsider its approach.
 
Minister responds
 
The Government also responded on Monday to emerging concerns arising from the Prime Minister's statement, with Information Minister Dr Dana Morris Dixon asserting that there is no attempt to curtail negative comments on social media.
 
Dr Morris Dixon, speaking on Radio Jamaica's Beyond the Headlines,  claimed that his  comment was merely intended to encourage digital literacy.
 
Accordingly, she declared that the Government has no intention to  track people making negative comments about the administration online, contrary to some interpretations of the words of the Prime Minister. 
 
"When he says that he's tracking individuals, it doesn't mean that he's using these very nefarious tools to find people," she added, in defence of the Prime Minister, adding that "there are... very simple ways, that you can tell who someone is that is posting things."
 
"In terms of where we are going, there are really just conversations that are taking place," she said.
 
Specifically, in respect of what she highlighted as "disinformation" and "the bullying online and the threats that are issued online," illustrate the need for digital literacy; "because a lot of our people are getting their information from social media."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                 
 
 
 


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