If you believe that we are now in the age of instant gratification, the change of government in Jamaica will make for interesting viewing. After the election results were announced, provisionally, on the night of February 25, we saw how the new ‘age’ was taking hold. Many people had been privileged to be able to watch the television coverage of the election results, with its mix of good and weak commentaries, and its mixing with live shots from around the country. It was easy to get some sense of what was going on around the country, without having to move a centimetre. Others followed events via the Internet, including also watching visual broadcasts. Many of the Internet followers, however, were tracking things in a more interactive way, through social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. They shared news, views, jokes, and more. In fact, from early on election day, some used such platforms for some subtle propaganda in the form of evidence that they had voted: the images of purple-ink-covered-fingers were many. Once the first batch of counting was done, many politicians who had long been visible and active on social media were getting into the fray voluntarily, or being pulled there, by their followers and ‘friends’ seeking to connect with them.
None of this should really be a surprise. If there was a surprise, it was that both parties had not seen the same value in boosting their social media presence earlier, and the party that had and seemed to be mastering the space won the election. It’s all well and good to be snarky about something, but you’d better be sure you understand it properly before you just dismiss it. I imagine there are some in the PNP who had been scratching their heads that their party in general, but some high-standing people, in particular, could have been so out of touch with a trend that seemed to have significant and real momentum. The reluctance to debate was a manifestation of being out of touch. Anyway, there’s time to reflect and repair damage on that front.
Since, the first counting was done, we were also treated to the saga of the official count and the drama that unfolded in a few seats that were close. Again, people seemed to want to follow closely and every minute without a confirmation of results was a chance for someone or several people to ask the equivalent of “Are we there, yet?” Like the toddler in the back of the car, the impatience sometimes led to mischief, and stories started to circulate to fill the gap of real news–ballot boxes stolen, incidents occurring, wrong reasons given for delays, speculation about integrity of processes, etc.
Sadly, one of the main parties in the process, The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), which had been quite visible on social media before the election, seemed to have gotten swamped by the volume of its real work around election day and could not keep up a stream of timely, factual updates. When ECJ is doing its review of how things went, it would be useful for them to consider how they could have interacted on social media better, and what that may mean for total resources, or use of available resources.
Moving on to the business of the new government and opposition party, we see that instant gratification has not abated. What is interesting is to see the degree to which the new government is embracing that. Moving backward. Yesterday, the new Cabinet had its first meeting. The PM invited the traditional media to witness the early part of proceedings. If that was not a complete first, it was something well out of keeping with the habits of the former administration.
Moving backward. Yesterday, the new Cabinet had its first meeting. The PM invited the traditional media to witness the early part of proceedings. If that was not a complete first, it was something well out of keeping with the habits of the former administration. So, we were treated to images of the Cabinet in session and some commentary about how the new executive branch was going about its business. Cue another stream of information and interaction on social media.
We can look back over the few short weeks and see that a certain openness is apparent in how the new government is going about its business. I don’t think it’s telling tales of school to say that this looks like a stark contrast with the outgoing government.
Without belabouring the point, the last government ignored many nice low-hanging fruit in term of communicating that are easy for the new government to pick off. The question is, ‘Will it last?’ Added to that, ‘What will it mean for how business is conducted?’
The expectation of being able to see more of what the government is doing is not new. Responding positively to that expectation is something that will be remarked upon. Drawing back from that will be noticed, quickly, and could be used as a battering ram later.
Many governments in industrial countries have seen the light in terms of such opening of communication between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’. We have the well-known example of the current Obama Administration, whose presence in social media would challenge any so-called Millenial. (You can follow the President, White House, members of Congress, and many more on various social media platforms. I just got an e-mail about the pending Supreme Court nomination, plus notification of a Twitter handle to follow if I wanted to get more information about the nomination process, and public announcement.) But, we’ve seen it further afield, as with Indian PM Modi in India.
Jamaicans are quick to fault, so don’t be surprised that even if the government doesn’t draw back people will find fault with the flow of information. Meantime, though, let’s breathe in the fresh air of seeming to take the populace seriously.