Information on social media platforms can be an incredible source to keep track of rapidly evolving situations throughout the world. Particularly, when national governments control and manipulate all sources of information, social media can truly become the only unbiased and trustworthy source, especially for those of us following a situation from the outside. As a law librarian, I must also warn of the pitfalls of not properly vetting and evaluating both the source and information found on social media platforms. Making sure that the information you read and the sources you follow on social media are both reliable and legitimate is a step everyone should be doing regardless of what you’re reading or looking for. However, the rapidly evolving story, lack of transparency and alternative sources and absolute control on information or lack thereof create an extra layer of complexity when it comes to following current events in some foreign countries.
In this post, I want to focus on two countries in our continent of the Americas, namely Nicaragua and Haiti. These two countries are experiencing dramatic and tragic events which have significantly impacted our availability to secure trustworthy information from the outside. In the case of Nicaragua, the current President Ortega has secured complete control over the entire government apparatus. He has effectively installed an autocratic one-voice system whereby all dissidents and contradictory opinions, even just perceived as such, can have grave consequences. Haiti exhibits a complete lack of digital information infrastructure. Crisis over crisis abatting the country have hampered any efforts to escape the cycle of violence, poverty and lack of viable political and socio-economic systems. Considering these tragic circumstances, a few social media accounts in multiple platforms have taken it upon themselves to inform the public anywhere they might be about the situation on the ground and share factual and correct information with everyone.
Nicaragua was one of the few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that did not enact any national lockdowns, curfews or any health measures to combat COVID-19. President Ortega took his ignorance and demagoguery to another level, when he actively encouraged people to gather in groups, not follow any scientific guidelines and even silence anyone trying to alert others about the pandemic. In this context of complete disinformation coming from national authorities, it is not surprising that both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) have been unable to secure any reliable information about the situation in the country. The health crisis has combined with a political crisis increasing in impact in the months leading up to the undemocratic November presidential elections.
Despite this confluence of incredibly tragic circumstances, I would share two sources which I have been consulting regularly: Observatorio Ciudadano COVID-19 Nicaragua and Despacho 505. The Observatorio Ciudadano has been informing on the COVID-19 situation in Nicaragua since March 2020. As far as I know, they are the only source of information striving to be reliable and comprehensive as they report numbers and data from inside the country. Through their Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as website, the group aims to provide numbers of infection rates as well as deceased cases both nationally and divided by departments, sanitary and health information substantiated by science, and press releases and weekly reports. Given the repression in the country, the group has come under pressure and threats to cease their work. The confidentiality needed to pursue this work from Nicaragua is also detrimental to knowing how they gather this information and data as well as evaluating the authority and expertise of those behind it. As a law librarian, I recommend everyone to focus on the intention and mission of the group first while also trying to evaluate the actual information they post.
Another great source on Nicaragua is the fact checking page, Despacho 505. Despacho is one of the rare investigative journalism websites reporting from Nicaragua. Almost every day, the website publishes a series of incisive and insightful articles written by both contributors as well as anonymous sources. The articles are also shared in their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Besides current events, Despacho also pursues more in-depth journalism and historical pieces such as the impact of femicides in the country and extensive reporting on the April 2018 protests, the Ortega repression and the subsequent massive exile of Nicaraguans, particularly to Spain. Furthermore, through its fact-checking arm called “Gato Encerrado” which aims to reveal any false information, conspiracy theories or rumors shared in social media platforms.
The 7.2 earthquake that devastated Haiti on 14 August, particularly in the southern peninsula found a country recently traumatized with the assassination of its Prime Minister, Jovenel Moïse on 7 July. Anyone closely following events in Haiti knows that the country was already mired in a series of political, social and economic crises which have been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on the population. Sporadic reliability of national sources have made people doubt the government account versus the real impact of the pandemic. Furthermore, the Haitian Parliament has been suspended since 2018 and the late Prime Minister Moïse had been governing Haiti by decree. Before his assassination, Moïse supported a consitutional reform as well legislative elections for this coming November 2021 and presidential elections for February 2022. Given the current political crisis among others, all the processes are on hold and highly controversial.
In order to keep track of these changes in Haiti, I have been closely following several Twitter accounts from well-known news sources such as the Haitian Times, Le Nouvelliste and Radio Television Caraibes. Haitian Times (HT) has more of a diaspora angle, which someone looking from the outside like myself appreciates thoroughly. HT serves almost as a community gathering place as it shares information about organizations working in Haiti, raising funds, events on various issues and more. French-speaking Le Nouvelliste has historically been an insightful and trustworthy source of information. Nouvelliste’s presence on social media serves as an entryway into its more extensive coverage on its website, which I highly recommend everyone to read. Another incredibly useful French-speaking source is Radio Television Caraibes (RTC). Through social media, RTC shares more direct information regarding latest developments in all areas of Haitian society. Like Nouvelliste, RTC’s website sometimes provides more in-depth information about the recent developments and issues reported on its social media accounts.
Remaining in the realm of journalism, I’m going to mention four journalists that I follow on Twitter. First two English-speaking ones I recommend are Jacqueline Charles (Miami Herald) and Sam Bojarski (Haitian Times). Both share information from their respective media workplaces as well as from other sources. And the same is true for two French-speaking journalists, Amélie Baron (Agence France Presse and Radio France International) and Robenson Geffrard (Nouvelliste). Personally, I truly appreciate their more extensive writings as well as their rapid updates on such a volatile and rapidly evolving situation on the ground.
Last but not least, there is a wealth of information on social media coming from several international organizations based in the country. I’m just going to mention a few and let readers to peruse them: :
- ONU Haïti | Facebook
- Nations Unies Haïti (@UNHaiti) / Twitter
- OCHA Haiti (@OCHAHaiti) / Twitter
- PNUD Haïti (@undphaiti) / Twitter
- IOM Haiti (@IOMHaiti) / Twitter
- UNFPA Haïti (@UNFPAHaiti) / Twitter
- WFP Haiti (PAM) 🕊️ (@WFP_Haiti) / Twitter
- UNESCO Haïti (@unesco_haiti) / Twitter
The intent of this post is not to be exhaustive. I have shared only a few sources on keeping abreast on events in Nicaragua and Haiti, which I regularly consult and use myself. However, I’d like to invite all readers to share other social media sources in the comments section below.