Serve me right: Do we need to put our rulers on social media?

Most politicians that I have ever noticed are sensitive to being portrayed in a bad light. When that happens, they are often very quick to rail against ‘the media’. Those with resources are quick to marshal their resources to ‘manage’ their image, back toward the good.

The world we have today is one where information travels very fast–quicker than humans can move. We also have a world where information flows as far as it can go, with little control by its originators over where it goes. I’m sure that, without globalisation, many people would not know about the heinous activities going on far away from them–brutality in South Sudan; attacks on shopping malls in Kenya; corruption in Russia; political shenanigans in the USA, etc.

For some people, all of that international information is too much. They have a hard enough time getting to grips with what is or is not happening outside their door. A broken water main that has been running for 5 days; no lights in their town for days; schools without desks; children without food, etc.

I focused on negatives in local life because that’s what usually gets people more excited, as opposed to the good news such as the birth of twins to the lady next door; the successful yam crops in Mr. McFarlane’s field for the ninth year in succession, etc.

Many people don’t have mental space to deal with international problems when local problems are not fixed. I couldn’t care two hoots about Chris Christie and ‘bridgegate’ while I have garbage piling up in my yard since Christmas, and the stench and flies and dogs ripping it up are turning where I live into a daily nightmare. I’m not to be accused of being ignorant of uninterested in what is going on because I cannot focus on ‘abroad’ because I have to deal with so much in my yard.

That’s where I want to think about what we would like from our political representatives. We want responsiveness.

I believe that naming and shaming can be effective, where gentle persuasion has failed. I want to suggest that people demand more use of the best communication tools by their elected officials. My initial thought was that all elected officials should be made to use social media. When I had that thought, I quickly searched the Internet and saw that this had already been proposed in the USA. Many American politicians have already put themselves to that test, but through personal choice.

Politicians may be quick to argue that this is an undue burden on their time and energy, and for each in person that may be true. They may argue that they do not have resources to finance the employment of someone to do that for them. That may also be true. But, can they redirect their resources to make it happen, and fast? In Jamaica, when we have a rate of 40 percent unemployment for young people, I think we have a pool of workers who may be ready to do such tasks for little pay at first, and for exposure and experience. We can think it through better.

If you listen to radio call-in programmes in countries like Jamaica, you get to understand very quickly that many people do not feel that elected officials or bureaucrats serve them very well. Nor do they seem ready to respond quickly and civilly to requests for help. Would that change if it became ‘news’ very quickly? I think so.

We have a great danger, however. The world is also full of people who just get a kick out of messing things up for others. Those people who would be making malicious accusations rather than just sticking to what is true. The pests who want to use an anonymous alias to be rude and insulting. We need to have ways to weed them out fast and clearly.

We also have an age-old problem that people do not feel that they are equal to politicians and bureaucrats and if they make public their grievances, they will be left unprotected and helpless to retribution or other forms of penalty. It’s a great hope, I know, that this would not happen.

But, what is the risk of trying to start something like this?

I’m going to ignore the problems and challenge those who feel they are too great to find a way around them, rather than use the challenge as a reason to not try.

On top of that, I want to see us be able to rate politicians and institutions, in the same way that we are ready to rate schools, or restaurants, or hotels. I want to know, for instance, what at any time are the ‘favourable’ and ‘unfavourable’ ratings of public persons and bodies. That’s a big task, but the sentiment of it need not be covered by a massive database at first. Let’s say that it can be done every three months. If you come out with bigoted comments, get called out on them. If you act like a saint, get praise for it. Politicians should not be able to hide from their citizens.

The more I listen to people’s complaints and the more I listen to politicians, the more I think that cannot keep leaving bad things to fester for years just because that’s when elections occur.


Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

2 thoughts on “Serve me right: Do we need to put our rulers on social media?”

  1. Social media is a new communications challenge in many ways, but can be used so effectively by leaders – political and otherwise. Apart from anything else if politicians were all on social media they would NOT be able to hide and would automatically become more “available.” And they could certainly use it to their advantage. Audley Shaw was doing quite a good job with it when he was running for the JLP leadership; since then he has dropped Twitter like a hot potato, which is rather a shame.


  2. I personally think the challenge is communication, and social media is the new frontier. We have many longer standing means that could carry voices and opinions more broadly to the eyes and ears of people–some bullet notes (eg, ‘my week in the constituency’), a taped broadcast, etc. D you want to tell people what is going on and your thoughts, or hear their views, or do you want to have no exchange? Politics cannot be about YOU THE POLITICIAN only.

    Many problems exist when a politician does not want to engage or does so badly. But, I think many of us are willing to help them do better at communicating, if they are willing to be open. I think that’s part of the PM’s problem–having ‘closed up’.

    Mr. Shaw (@audleyshaw) is active on Twitter (up to a few days ago, with a tweet about his guest column in the Gleaner). I would prefer Mr. Holness (@andrewholnessjm) to do more than post a lot of pictures of Facebook/Twitter, for instance, he can ‘engage’ in conversations as he wishes, outside of the constraints of formal interviews.


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