Online activists challenged to show impact
(L-R) Dr Pearson Broome, moderator Jason Francis, Jeremy Stephen, Krystle Howell, Patrick 'Salt' Bellamy and Krystal Hoyte on the panel discussing Internet and Governance - Democracy and Economy at the Internet Governance Forum on Friday.
Successful social movements do not just agitate because they can, but to bring about institutional changes to create a better life.
This was the contention of Dr Pearson Broome, Lecturer in Political Science and e-Governance at the UWI Cave Hill. He made the comments on Friday at the Internet Government Forum, organised by the Internet Society Barbados Chapter, during a panel on 'Internet and Governance – Democracy & Economy'.
The discussion centred on how social media facilitates greater citizen participation in the governance of their society. However, Dr Broome warned that without a clear vision, the growing trend of online activism would not have a meaningful impact.
“I have no problem with people being empowered, but to what end? It must have an end point or else what we’re doing online is no different to what we’ve been doing over the years in person – it’s just a new method of doing things,” he argued.
Joining him on the panel were two people who have become known as social media influencers, namely economist Jeremy Stephen and accountant Krystle Howell, as well as radio personality and DJ, Patrick ‘Salt’ Bellamy and Vice President of the Barbados Youth Development Council, Krystal Hoyte.
Bellamy said that the growing influence of online activism called for better internet literacy where users can discern between reputable sources and false information. Noting that online activism was still growing, he welcomed the Internet providing a platform for those who wanted one and gave an example of where online discussions had spurred concrete action in the ‘real world’.
Meanwhile, Stephen, who frequently uses Facebook Live videos to share his insights on socio-economic and geopolitical issues affecting Barbados, insisted that online activism does indeed make an impact.
He reminded that when you create a following, then you become a threat to the establishment, saying, “When you begin to get threats, then start telling me that Internet activists don’t have something."
Indeed, one audience member raised the point that online activism in larger jurisdictions continually faces the threat of being curtailed as governments make moves to crackdown on platforms that allow encryption and anonymity, on the premise of national security. However, this removes the Internet freedoms that allows online activism to bring about institutional change, like what happened in the Arab Spring.
However, Stephen suggested that the Caribbean doesn’t need the violence of an Arab Spring to cause meaningful change in its societies, but that Internet activists just need to be persistent.
Lamenting that many issues are often personalised instead of intellectualised, Stephen contended, “We’re an anti-intellectual society, progressively more so than ever. So the way that you become effective is to become the intellectual, not just a person making noise – and there’s an art to it.”
Howell, who said she was overwhelmed by the response she got to her Facebook Live analysis of the 2015 Auditor General’s report that went viral, was firm in her defence of online activism.
“I would like persons not to be discouraged by those who would like to quiet your voice, especially if you are able to influence persons to make better decisions,” she said.
“Activism plays a very critical role in bringing about change. If your voice can be multiplied by the thousands and can make a difference to how things are done, it is a different method.”
She concluded, “There is no limit to the number of persons that you can influence if you speak out and if you are sure that the information you are sharing is something that can add value to persons’ lives.”