Jamaica’s election: misunderstanding what ordinary Jamaicans do–some thoughts on social media

Jamaica is on the verge on entering what may be seen as unchartered territory, as the latest general election result has thrown the political parties into a virtual tie for seats. How the eventual winner goes about managing the slim majority (whether it’s the current one, or the three of election night) will be a test of how our democracy has matured.

One great thing about elections is that, whatever polls might have indicated, the people casting their ballots and those who do not vote will determine the outcome. You can have all the talk in the world about what could or should have been, but you now have to deal with the reality of what was. You may swear to change how you approach people in the future–learning from your mistakes–or you may swear to not change–learning from things that might have brought you success.

Many saw before the elections a series of missteps by the ruling party, and many of those have been cited by people as reasons for not giving that party their support. Many saw the attractiveness of promises made by the opposition, and no doubt the lure of personal gain was real.

A debate should take place about what a throw-away comment might have meant to many voters–in my mind, many more voters than seemed obvious.

It’s not because I am a well-educated, avid user of social media that I found the jibe about “articulate minority” offensive. I disliked the simplistic notion that ‘ordinary” Jamaicans knew or cared little about it.

Going backwards. I overheard some domestic workers chatting over the weekend: “It deh pon social media” was all I heard. Whatever ‘it’ or the ‘social media’ were, here were ordinary Jamaicans caring. 

About six months ago, another domestic worker, on hearing that I was going to travel to the US, asked me if I could bring her back a tablet. Naively, I thought she needed medicine, but she soon set me straight. She told me how her daughter seemed to be one of only a few in her class who could not interact on social media, “Facebook an demde t’tings”, she told me. Whatever little the mother understood, her daughter was getting left out because of this simple thing.

These are simple instances of how the ordinary persons’ interest is both present and likely to grow.

No doubt, there are people like me who use social media to argue and put forward many positions, but there are many who simply draw on social media for information that is immediate, succinct, relevant, partial, biased, kind, harsh, truthful, full of lies, and more.

My daughter asked me the other day how many people subscribed to my blog. I told her a couple of thousand. I get a shock when a total stranger comes up to me and tells me that they read my blog, recently. It’s as funny when people I know, who use social media under names that tell you little, come up and tell me that they liked my reply to their comment.

I look at the ‘reach’ of one of my posts on Twitter and am constantly amazed when I see that it may be 100,000 or greater. Some of the best discussion that is going on at any time is in cyber space. Admittedly, it’s not for all, and it can get toxic quickly, and it can misinform and inflame. But, it’s there.

No matter how few people I know, the world that can tap into my world is far greater than I can imagine. That is, I think, the fallacy of the jibe–that seemingly ever-expanding reach of the ideas of ‘ordinary’ people. The opposition party seemed to take it more seriously, at least by having a presence in many forms to tap into the interest and spread of social media. That was one ‘battlefield’ where no troops needed to be put on the ground, but their presence had to be there ‘in the air’, so to speak.

Going forward, I’m going to watch to see how those in the former government reposition themselves in this arena, and how the former opposition bolsters its presence.