Since 2010 there have been a proliferation of groups in social media, mainly Facebook, to express themselves about political, social and current affairs.
This has allowed for greater interaction between members of the diaspora, Jamaicans at home and even allowed sitting Members of Parliament to have direct access to their constituents.This vehicle has facilitated necessary growth in communicating the views of the general populace on important issues. Many of the groups formed on Facebook originated from other Facebook web pages such as Nationwide, when soon the need for a space in which people can freely express themselves was identified.
Many of these groups are aligned along party lines, entertainment preferences etc. It was therefore, inevitable that the influence of the North American way of using satirical means to engage their populace in politics, via memes, cartoons and comedic jingles, would seep into our blogging culture. It is important to note that the Jamaican laws on free speech are not as clearly defined as that of the United States, where it is enshrined in the constitution, thus making some matters of libel open to speculation and interpretation.
As with all good comes bad as some took the opportunity to create mayhem and misery by indulging in slander behind fake profiles.These criminal acts were stymied as several defamation suits ensued. The recent case of libel involving MP Daryl Vaz and David Rowe gave pause to several who would chose to make allegations behind pseudonyms. Despite these negatives there have been a burgeoning community of bloggers who have sought to educate, advocate, nurture and empower the Jamaican people through social media. Oftentimes these fora have shone light on injustice, e.g Mario Deane, highlighted MP impropriety, e.g classification as “Dutty Laborite”, and have served to expose Important news items lost in the news cycle.
On the point of advocacy, the recent Outameni debacle exposed the regard with which the government held the blogging community when MP Bobby Pickersgill referred to them as the “Articulate Minority.” Even before him Delano Franklyn was at pains to point out their irrelevance when he defended PM Simpson-Miller’s persistent silence by denouncing bloggers in social media as the “chattering class.” Strangely, an administration that promised to be open and uncompromising in transparency has proven anything but, by the Minister of Information constantly refusing to supply information. This has forced the blogging community to react by creating memes questioning and parodying the Jamaican government’s stealthy descent into totalitarianism via anarchy.
The chaotic way in which information is communicated to the populace has become a hallmark of this administration that seems to function best in fits and starts. The recent rash of cartoons, parodies and hashtags are as a result of the frustration the people are having with the diet of poorly prepared or lackluster communication. The lack of proper planning and thought that attends communiques from the government on serious issues is topped only by the insolent and arrogant ignoring of the people’s right to it.
The government in their zeal to suppress this growing resentment displayed by the bloggers have not taken well to the dissent. Indeed, although a few among them gave broken rank and have voiced their concern via social media about the arrogant tone of their administration, they have been quickly silenced. There have been threats of lawsuits and the recent ruling against Cliff Hughes of Nation Wide is often pointed to as a warning for would be critics. But what of this newly empowered and flourishing mass. Where are their teeth? What power do they wield. The world watched in awe as the Arab spring, spurred on by social media groups, brought change and resolution to years of oppression in the Middle East.
Will social media groups make a difference in Jamaica? The recent comments by Bobby Pickersgill so drew the ire of some that it launched a week of peaceful demonstrations in New Kingston. Although the demonstration had very modest numbers, it might act as a catalyst for Jamaicans to arise from their tribal induced stupor and claim a more progressive narrative. As a people we have suffered and overcome much oppression. It is therefore surprising that now we seem to have become resigned to allowing the people we have elected to erode the freedoms for which we have fought.
Perhaps voicing concerns via social media is the new age way of peaceful protest. This way of expression should be safe guarded against those who would choose to set us back to the slavery of silence.