Is Social Media Changing Jamaican Politics? The Case of the British Gift of a New Prison

Jamaican Elections are approaching. It’s been long rumoured that it will be held in November this year, but according to the usual City Kingston grape vine, it has to be held before the Budget 2016 is read April this year.

Regardless of when it is held, Jamaicans on Social Media have already begun to change the on-the-ground political discourse I believe.  They have also influenced a last minute spike in voter registration via a #votejamaica social media campaign and have been pushing back the usual rhetoric and typical stream of Politics as usual – by organising around specific issues with online tools and launching robust discussions around major political news items.

But first let’s put this into context by starting with the facts.  Jamaicans are connected, social and mobile.

THE SOCIAL MEDIA STATS

There are now over 1 million Jamaicans on Facebook, twice that of what it was just 5 years ago. As of September this year, the Jamaican internet user penetration was 50%. Added to that, Jamaica’s mobile penetration is over 100% and Smartphone penetration and over 60% now.

Further, according to alexa.com the Top 5 social media platforms most visited by Jamaicans are:
1. Youtube
2.Facebook
3.Twitter
4. Instagram
5. LinkedIn

 

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

But how can this and has this been influencing Jamaican politics? The recent case in point – The Memorable visit of  the British Prime Minister Dave Cameron last week. The single biggest thing that Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora will remember – can be summed up in these two images by the Jamaica- Gleaner.

davecameronvisitsjamaica

This one image led to a firestorm of online discussions on Facebook and Twitter. The major issue that has gained alot of legs on and offline is this “gift” of a Prison. In his address to the Jamaican Parliament last week, Britain’s Prime Minister said that his Government will give Jamaica £25million – 40% of the total cost of a new prison, so they can send back the few hundred Jamaicans that are locked up there.  Let’s just say Jamaicans are pissed, and has so far let to the organisation of 2 major things.

  1. A group of young Jamaicans have organised a Silent Protest in front of Jamaican Parliament.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 3.49.46 PM

2. A change.org Petition being signed by Jamaicans at home and abroad.

 

noprisondeal

This against the background that the Government’s Security Minister and political surrogates  through the Media, have been trying to “sell” Jamaicans on why this may be good and what needs to happen for this “Prison Deal” can be made real.

BUT WILL IT CHANGE THINGS?

Now it remains to be seen whether the Social Media Groundswell backed by the over          1, 000,000 Jamaicans on Facebook plus their connection to the Diaspora can apply enough “Hell No, to the Prison Deal we say No” Pressure for this to stop this process. Because this could also be dismissed as another 9 day wonder fueled by what is called hashtag activism.

Fact remains Social Media equals connection, conversations across online and mobile platforms driven my people sharing what they care about. When organised and targeted consistently- it has the stunning potential to influence what happens at the polls.  However, there are other factors such as voter list – who’s on it and will they go out to vote; then here is the culture of buying votes; and of course, are political candidates even aware of the discussions online and do they even care what their constituents are saying online and via their mobile phones. Will Jamaicans hold their government leaders and political representatives accountable or is social media being used by armchair generals as just another digital patio where alot is said and not much other action is taken?

Let’s see how social media can and will affect the Jamaican General Elections!