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    Tuesday, May 21, 2019-9:24:49A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Variations | Doubt as virtue

WHAT I am about to recount is my take (others have their own) on Imperial Pacific’s most recent public-relations setback.  Let me also point out that misinformation is not a new problem. It has been the bane of human existence since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

I first learned about the “protest action” of IPI’s Filipino H2-B construction workers — while it was happening — from an off-island source. The workers had gathered outside a building which is about a 15-minute drive away from where I live. Someone in Hawaii, which is 20 hours behind NMI time, told me about it. In other words, I heard about an ongoing news event on the island where I reside from someone who was still in my yesterday in a place over 3,800 miles away. (Yes, the Umberto Eco/Robert Zemeckis of it all.)

By then, the “breaking news” had caught fire on social media, and the story-line had already been seared into our minds: foreign workers were cheated out of their wages by a notorious foreign casino investor whose previous foreign workers had suffered the same fate. These recent labor abuse victims, moreover, had no money to buy food. Etc. etc.

It took IPI at least two days to respond publicly. But it was too late. Public opinion was firmly on the side of poor, abused (probably even “cheap”) foreign workers.

As in most controversies, however, the most popular version of the news story was not the entire story.  The workers said they were being paid on time. And they were not “cheap”; each of the plumbers were getting over $16 per hour. What they wanted was to be paid before their last payday which was Jan. 30th, which was also the day their H2-B visa would expire. They said they were told by a supervisor that they would be paid on Jan. 28th When that didn’t happen, the workers proceeded to the U.S. Labor office in Puerto Rico to complain and seek help from the feds.

But IPI said it never told the workers they would get paid before their payday.  Moreover, the workers were no longer getting food from IPI because it was provided at the construction site. The workers had already stopped reporting for work, but they were still in their company-provided barracks. There was also confusion over the amount of paid time-off that the workers were expecting to get.  According to IPI, it didn’t want to lose the workers, but they had to leave because of a new federal rule: a year-long ban on H2-B workers from the Philippines

Again, as in most controversies, once more details are known, nuances emerge. What actually happened was more complex than the initial quickie version of it. But many of us do not want nuance. We want clearly identifiable good and bad guys.

In any case, what happened to IPI in this recent episode can happen to any other business or government entity — or anyone for that matter — in this age of social media.

Says political commentator Kevin D. Williamson, “Rage and extremism build audiences, especially on social media. Measured and intelligent conversation? Not really.... The news is there for people who want it. The problem is: Most don’t. Intelligent commentary has become, practically overnight, a rarefied and specialized interest, like opera. If you’re looking for scale: The editor of Politico has a Twitter following that is 0.02 percent the size of Justin Bieber’s. Popular discourse is on the same trajectory as popular music: synthetic, primitive, illiterate.”

We now live in a cyber world where the ability to doubt should be cultivated.

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