I read an excellent article in the Sunday Gleaner, by Prof. Paul Golding, about Jamaica And The Internet: Where Are We Now? I had several reactions to it, and sent a long set of comments to the Gleaner and the author. The Gleaner decided to take these comments and publish them as a guest column, today, with the snappy title Social Media More Than Idle Chatter. My general point is that social media, far from being ‘unsophisticated’ use of the Internet, is in fact powerful and many-layered. I think that politicians in many countries. Some have embraced it, while others have sought to limit its use and spread. We will have to see how forces of democracy and oppression face off, and which prevails in the near future.
I produce the column below, in part for easier reading, but also to correct some links that were broken in the Gleaner’s electronic version (which I have asked them to fix :-)).
Dr Paul Golding’s article ‘Jamaica and the Internet: where are we now?’, (Sunday Gleaner, April 19, 2015) points out some important issues about development of the Internet and Jamaican society and its economy.
Many of us know the world is being transformed rapidly by access to and use of Internet facilities. It has allowed countries and communities to jump over developmental hurdles like never before. I saw it first-hand years ago when gold and diamond miners in remote African villages were transacting with financiers in Europe on mobile phones.
But, it’s important that we understand and characterise developments well.
I was struck by a seemingly glib reference to social media use as low sophistication, while more sophisticated uses were seen as Internet banking, purchasing goods and e-government. This seems like an awful misunderstanding.
What is sophisticated about getting access to my money and making routine transactions without having to go to a financial institution or using paper means? Sure, I can buy US stocks from my beach villa in Portland. What is sophisticated about looking at pictures of items I want to buy and arranging those purchases with the click of a button? I can get the latest gear from New York City and have it delivered to me in Kingston and never get on a plane.
What is sophisticated about paying my taxes by mobile phone or with a tablet? Tax Administration Jamaica can get my money faster, but many ministers do not know how to use email.
Conversely, what is unsophisticated about starting an online petition on Twitter or Facebook and getting one million people to support an idea without our ever meeting face-to-face?
Power Of Pithy Messages
I put it that way for a reason. Many equate social media with exchanging images and sending pithy messages to friends. However, we know, much to our disgust, that those pithy messages are often powerful. Ask Mario Balotelli, or others who have been subjected to online abuse of astonishing proportions (as revealed in a recent study by ‘Kick It Out’, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/liverpool-mario-balotelli-most-abused-premier-l). We also know that by being able to share images and stories from places hundreds and thousands of miles away, in an instant, we can affect outcomes. Look at the world’s reactions to the bombing of Charlie Hebdo’s offices.
Why go overseas for examples? Ask our budding reggae superstar, Chronixx, how his use of unsophisticated Instagram and Twitter to express his views recently on Marcus Garvey and the United States president landed him in more hot water than he’s ever faced on stage or because of a song.
Ask those in the Middle East who went through the Arab Spring about how unsophisticated was the use of social media in creating revolutions and changing regimes (see http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/internet/research-arab-spring-internet-key-studies).
Yes, moving money and goods and services with the click of a few buttons is a step forward, but such opportunities are only as good as the underlying businesses. I cannot transfer money easily between banks in Jamaica or with other entities overseas, no matter how good my Internet service is. However, I can affect many people’s lives even with a poor dial-up Internet service, but with the right message.
That’s why the use of the Internet by groups focused on terrorism is of such concern. It’s not that they can buy cool gear, but because the Internet spreads their voice far wider and faster than anything ever seen before.