The exponential growth of social media over the last decade has created a revolution in communications and connectivity across the globe.
While, as its name implies, the new media was intended to facilitate “sociability” among people, it was quickly exploited to mobilise widely dispersed individuals to take collective (“social”) action.
Particularly in Eastern Europe, following the various “colour Revolutions” at the beginning of the millennium, social media was used extensively to mobilise uprisings against governments in North Africa to launch what was dubbed, the “Arab Spring”. The power of social media, lies in its presumed “spontaneity” and energisation by “ordinary” people that others can identify, as opposed to the traditional media such as newspapers, TV and radio, which are supposed to be purveying the views of the mass corporations and entrenched groups.
In Guyana, the use of social media to disseminate political messages has not gone as far as precipitating an “Arab Spring”, but deployed by several well-organised youth groups, did help to change the last government. Numerous opposition-oriented youths were facilitated – either individually or in groups on social media and several new websites such as “GTMosquito” – to attack the PPP government. Ruel Johnson, a writer who had conducted an extended war of attrition against the PPP in general and its Minister of Culture in particular was very extreme in his attacks and was later given much credit for mobilising youths to remove the PPP from government.
He was rewarded and made “Cultural Policy Advisor to the Ministry of Education”. But his official position did not dampen his relish for attacking the PPP, now in opposition and those who he felt had been supportive of them when they were in government. Last week, made aware that some of his associates were organising a protest against the parking meters, he advocated they extend the action “to torch” the Sanata Complex, which he had long railed against as being the beneficiary of the PPP’s “largesse”.
The Sanata Complex houses a number of businesses, among them the Guyana Times, TVG and RGI 89.5 and this Internet news outlet, of which Johnson explicitly took cognisance. In view of Johnson’s role in political mobilisation to unseat the PPP, and his public vow to continue to hound them, it was not surprising the employees of the media outfits and the other companies took the threat seriously. Just as his large Facebook following took his exhortations to unseat the PPP seriously and act on them, it was quite reasonable that even if Johnson himself would not commit arson on the Sanata Complex, one or more members of his “friends” could do so.
As such, the management of the companies in the Sanata Complex filed a report with the Police on the threat made against them. But when the police went to question Johnson at his office at the Ministry of Education, they could not find him even as he taunted them for being incompetent on Facebook. The Minister of Education promised he would “look into the matter” but Johnson boasted even though they met, nothing was said to him.
In all of this Johnson has remained defiant in his stance. In Guyana there is a folk saying: ”All skin teeth na laugh”. And it is our considered that in a society that has experienced sustained bouts of politically-inspired violence for over half a century, the authorities must take action to ensure that provocateurs like Johnson do not throw gasoline onto a smouldering fire.