Is St Kitts & Nevis rapidly becoming a Propaganda State? | Garth Wilkin

Is St Kitts & Nevis rapidly becoming a Propaganda State?

Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda. Propagandists present facts selectively or publish lies (colloquially known as fake news) to encourage a particular perception by using strategically drafted language to produce an emotional, rather than a rational response, to the information presented.

The objective of propaganda is to trick the reader or listener into believing what the propagandist wants him or her to believe. By purposefully choosing parts of the bigger picture or by blatantly lying about the picture, the reader can be deceived into believing partial truths or lies.

Widespread political propaganda can cause a state of information chaos within a country, which only benefits politicians and political parties (or an enemy state e.g. Russia’s alleged information attack on the US general election). A wise man once said that the sole objective of a political party is to win elections. In order to win control of the government, in our constitutional system, citizens and residents choose the political party by way of voting for its political candidates. Therefore, politicians and political parties use propaganda to keep supporters loyal and to gain new supporters.

Politicians do not want voters to be objectively informed to challenge decisions and statements made by them. Blind loyalty is what political parties crave. When politicians steal state funds, take bribes, become morally bankrupt or fail in the management of their Ministries, they do not want to lose voters in the next election at all costs, so their actions or inactions can continue without repercussion.

Politicians also want their supporters to rally behind them, no matter what scandal or bobol is associated with them. Blind loyalty of this nature is preserved by the use of propaganda. Hypothetically, if a container of air conditioners destined for a state office goes missing (ending up in a politician and his or her family members’ homes) the pro-government propagandist will issue a press release or fake news item stating that a container fell off a ship in the Caribbean Sea while sailing from Miami to St Kitts. The politicians do not care if the story is true, once it is disseminated to as many people as possible. Who are you to question what “the media” tells you happened to the container?

“Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it” is quote from Nazi propaganda chief Dr Joseph Goebbels. That is the essence of the trick used by politicians and political parties for centuries.

In the last decade, information is easier than ever to disseminate and therefore propaganda distribution mechanisms have increased exponentially. An 18-year-old with a smart phone and a politician whispering in his ear can create a big simple lie and broadcast it to 100 people on Whatsapp, which can be spread by those people to 100 more, leading to 10,000 people viewing the lie within an hour. When you add unregulated people-generated information sources like Facebook, Instagram and Email Broadcast Groups, the ease of information dissemination is startling.

Developments in the last few years have placed journalism under fire. A range of factors are transforming the communications landscape, raising questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism. At the same time, orchestrated campaigns are spreading untruths – disinformation, mal-information and misinformation – that are often unwittingly shared on social media:

  • Disinformation: Information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organisation or country
  • Misinformation: Information that is false but not created with the intention of causing harm
  • Mal-information: Information that is based on reality, used to inflict harm on a person, social group, organisation or country.

What is most worrisome in our small nation context are the political party-controlled propaganda machinery such as random unsubstantiated news sites (some of which sponsor “news” articles on social media), fake Facebook profiles, known political party affiliates and biased “bloggers”. If you use these propaganda spewers as the only sources of your news, you cannot and should not, in all fairness to your fellow countrymen and women, contribute to any meaningful debate about important issues affecting our developing nation.

St Kitts & Nevis which, due to its size and partisan political history, could very well be the most politically tribal country in the Western Hemisphere and is therefore fertile soil for propaganda infiltration. All of the local political parties use propaganda, some more successfully than others.

It is also innately human to have political preferences and to react emotionally based on those preferences, but the exploitation of those natural tendencies by political parties will lead to the destruction of our nation:

  1. a misinformed and resultantly ignorant voting public cannot make the best nation-building decisions;
  2. simple partisan political propaganda published to persons who are easily emotionally stimulated can incite widespread violence; and
  3. the nationwide loss of the ability to tell right from wrong can destabilize and cause chaos in a small Federation like ours.

The glaring state of propaganda in our nation can be seen daily. All we need to do be bombarded with fake news is to log on to Facebook or check our Whatsapp messages. Instead of being informed about actual events that have occurred and having related sober de-partisan-politicized debates as to the state of our development as a nation or the performance of our institutions, the government and opposition media machinery begin propaganda wars daily to gain political points. The lack of objective information is startling.

As far as the authors of Times Caribbean Online and SKN Times are concerned, the Unity government and its related stalwarts or supporters can do no wrong and if wrong is exposed, it really is right. If the government says 2+2=5, you better believe it wholeheartedly and they will hold a town hall meeting filled with their supporters to ram the “truth” down your throat. Fortunately, I have faith that Kittitians and Nevisians are not that foolish. Only the blind loyalists will convince themselves that 2+2=5. Being a blind loyalist is akin to being a Traitor to our Nation.

At the end of the day, boys will be boys and politicians will be propagandists. We, as a people, must therefore be objective in our thoughts and selective in our choice of information sources. If we do not take a stance against the War of Information in St Kitts and Nevis, we will become citizens living in a distorted reality. No-one will know right from wrong. Do you want to live in that type of society?

Let me be clear, the Facebook bloggers who hate particular politicians are not to be blamed if the stories they publish and comments they make are slanted in favour of political opponents. We are to blame if we take such stories and comments as undeniable truths. We, fair-minded and mature citizens, have to dissect the propagandist dissemination of fake news to find the real truths. A responsible citizen cannot ridicule Fox News USA addicts and simultaneously be a Times Caribbean Online addict. That would be hypocritical because both are propaganda tools with specific agendas to control (or at least) significantly impact the minds of voters.

The truth is, currently in St Kitts & Nevis, people absorb their news from sources they know are going to feed them the propaganda meals they want to consume. They do so selfishly based on their political persuasions but ignore the long term and widespread effect of such apathy to being objectively informed. One of the problems is that not enough independent professional news sources exist in our tiny nation, so each of us must be that much more diligent to search for real news, not the fake sensationalized kind.

You cannot be a true NRP supporter and support every action taken by any politician wearing a green shirt. Similarly, you cannot seek to defend objective Unity wrongs just because there may a political repercussion for the Unity candidates for whom you voted. You are Kittitians and Nevisians, first and foremost, not Labourites and PAMites. Being a true SKN Patriot and believing in our motto, Country Above Self, has many responsibilities, and in this age of misinformation, you have a duty to your country to search for objective news sources or at least seek to verify the authenticity and accuracy of propaganda laced news.

Is it that hard to acknowledge that some radio stations in this country and their political talk show hosts and callers are brazen pro-SKN Labour Party? That ZIZ is operated as the voice of the Unity government only? That Times Caribbean is pro-CCM, PAM and PLP? That Erasmus Williams is the former press secretary of the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Denzil Douglas? That the Big Bad Blogger (who is quite entertaining I must say) dislikes Mark Brantley? So why take what these media businesses and personalities have to say as if it were a bar of gold given to you by your grandmother?

The difficult route to becoming a nation of people who are willing to be objectively informed is complicated by the specific strategies used to control our minds.

For example, Cambridge Analytica, formerly the SCL Group, hired by the former St Kitts Nevis Labour Party Administration in the past is essentially a sophisticated propaganda strategist hired by political parties to gain new voters and maintain voter loyalty. Remember “Its Working” and “Fair Share for All”? You could not make the lies more simple than those if you tried.

Let us look at the Cambridge Analytica example in the US to see how far political parties and candidates are willing to go to control our minds. During the summer of 2014, the U.K. affiliate of U.S. political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica hired a researcher to gather basic profile information of Facebook users along with what they chose to “Like.” About 300,000 Facebook users, most or all of whom were paid a small amount, downloaded the app created by the researcher, called This Is Your Digital Life, which presented them with a series of surveys. The researcher collected data not just on those users but on their Facebook friends, if their privacy settings allowed it — a universe of people initially estimated to be 50 million strong, then upped to 87 million.

Why did Cambridge Analytica want the data? It uses such data to target voters with hyper-specific appeals, including on Facebook and other online services, that go well beyond traditional messaging based on party affiliation alone. This is known as “psychographic” targeting or modeling. It’s a company that “uses data to change audience behavior,” both commercially and politically, according to its website.

Let us look at a simple example of how these mind tricks could work. If these propaganda contractors find out that you are a dog lover. You follow numerous dog lover groups on Facebook and comment on posts about dogs. They will then pay for a “news article” to be published on your “news feed” with the Headline “Opposition Leader plans to ban all dogs from St Kitts”. It will be a simple article, with a fake quote assigned to the Opposition Leader. What is the dog lover now going to think about the opposition? And to think, this I merely a simple mechanism. What are we to do with the more complex mind tricks.

An article was published yesterday in which it said “Donald Trump continues to spend millions on Facebook adverts focusing on political rivals Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, as well as his efforts to build the border wall, according to new figures. The president is said to have paid out US$3.6 million for ads on the site from December 30 to March 23, with his spending in early 2019 more than the Democratic campaigns combined.  The social media ads were a key part of his successful campaign in 2016 and look to be part of his early strategy for the 2020 campaign.”

How much money you think the political parties and candidates in St Kitts pay annually for Facebook ads? The figures may surprise us.

At the end of the day, I encourage you to be smart and stay informed. Do not let our beloved St Kitts & Nevis become a USSR-styled nation. Think for yourselves. Question the information you receive. Decipher who produces independent, objective and researched news. Listen to the competing views presented on matters of national importance. Decide for yourself. The alternative is the deterioration of our young nation into a Propaganda State where our children will grow up believing that right is only right if one political party says it is and if John the propagandist says 2+2=5, you believe it wholeheartedly because you support the same party as him.

The late great Bob Marley said it much better than I ever could: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our mind.” Only then can we end the War of Information in this country, forcing the nation-destroying propagandists to retreat from our great Federation so that we can evolve into a society built on truth, fairness and accountability.