Here is an article by young Belizean journalist Kalilah Enriquez, who is currently working on Jamaican radio. She’s also a writer and a poet. You can find her blog at http://kalilahenriquez.blogspot.com.
What on earth are we talking about? Well, as the ongoing controversy continues over the use of National Housing Trust funds (to which Jamaicans contribute in the hope of one day being able to obtain a house) to purchase a failed tourist attraction, Outameni Experience, a veteran politician dismissed those commenting on social media as “the articulate minority.” This is an insult to ALL Jamaican people. So the majority (“ordinary Jamaicans” as the politician described them) are inarticulate and “dunce” (stupid, to use a Jamaican phrase)? Well, the minority turned out to protest the lack of transparency and accountability – and sheer contempt – which is increasingly characterizing the current administration’s approach to its citizens (or are we mere subjects? One wonders). I have interspersed some photos I took at this evening’s protest at Emancipation Park in Kingston in this text by Kalilah (she tries to get a handle on the extent of the minority, coming up with some interesting facts). Bear in mind – we are a small country of 2.7 million people, with limited Internet access. But as Jamaicans say, “Likkle but tallawah” (Small but strong/tough!)
Who is the articulate minority? The phrase was coined by Environment Minister and Chairman of the governing People’s National Party, Robert Pickersgill, to describe Twitter users commenting on the NHT/Outameni scandal. Pickersgill is quoted as saying that ordinary Jamaicans don’t know anything about the social media website, and that Jamaicans on Twitter are an articulate minority, who’re politically motivated. The comments have not gone down well with social media users, who’ve used the forum to criticize the senior Cabinet Minister.
There are no official statistics available on the Internet for the number of Jamaicans who use the social media website, Twitter. An executive from Twitter told one social media researcher (@corvedacosta) in July, that the number was somewhere around 35-thousand, about the size of a large constituency. However, another researcher (@top5jamaica) puts the figure at around 82-thousand, which is the number of Facebook users in Jamaica who also have a Twitter account linked to their Facebook page. The number could be much higher, considering many do not have the two accounts linked. By either estimate, it is indeed a fraction of Jamaica’s estimated 2-point-7 million population. Many more Jamaicans use Facebook, an estimated 760-thousand up to January this year, according to Facebook’s advertising analytics.
Yet, Twitter users are particularly influential. The site is designed to allow members to easily share someone else’s posts by re-tweeting with the click of a button. According to the Twitter-tracking website, Keyhole, the hashtag #Outameni was tweeted over 552 times by 270 users in the past 48 hours. Those messages reached almost 600-thousand people. The tracker does not count how many times Outameni was tweeted about since October 30, when the scandal broke. The hashtag #ArticulateMinority was tweeted 537 times in the past two days, reaching an estimated 662 thousand people. A story on the Observer’s website about Pickersgill’s comments has been viewed over 18-thousand times, and shared on social media nearly 200 times. A third of those shares are on Twitter.
Minister Pickersgill does have a Twitter account, @bobbyp425, with129 followers. He’s tweeted only 51 times, and his last message was in July 2012. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (@PSimpsonMiller) has just over 3-thousand followers, and last tweeted on October 5. While Opposition leader Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) has nearly 9-thousand Twitter followers, and last tweeted this morning. That message read, “Any politician that ignores or brushes off the articulate minority shows a high level of disregard for those who choose to express their opinions.” He continued, “I urge every Jamaican on Twitter to continue making your voice heard. Some of us are listening. I am listening.” One of those messages was retweeted 45 times.
According to the 2014 Global Information Technology Report published by the World Economic Forum, nearly half of all Jamaicans are online. In a survey by the Director of Caribbean Institute of Media and Communications, CARIMAC, Professor Hopeton Dunn in 2011, 72-percent of Jamaicans with Internet access said they used social media. That was three years ago. Social media has been steadily growing in Jamaica since, with more and more users creating profiles on the popular websites daily. Telecoms companies Digicel and LIME both offer mobile data packages tailored specifically towards social media users for as low as $50 a day. “Ordinary Jamaicans” are aware of Twitter.
Using the conservative estimate of 35 thousand Twitter users in Jamaica, Jamaicans on Twitter represent a larger constituency than Minister Pickersgill’s division of North West St. Catherine, which had 31,570 registered voters as of May 2014. Twitter users are influential shapers of social opinion, and if they are as articulate as Minister Pickersgill suggests, he may be keen to consider them Jamaica’s 64th constituency, the Twitter constituency. Maybe then he will get more followers.
And THAT’S my perspective.