Latest update March 24th, 2023 12:59 AM
Dec 12, 2011 Letters
The 2011 elections were characterized by a surge of young people filled with energies and expectations. On November 28, 2011, all across Guyana, thousands of youths exercised their right to vote and to participate in the democratic process to elect a government that will manage the affairs of this country for the next five years.
Many people commented on the sheer excitement of many first time voters, and youths, who got to the polling stations very early, and those who were encouraging others to vote. It was a signal that something was wrong or right in Guyana.
It was an expression that surprised many, who had resigned themselves to the apathy which has robbed our young people of their chance to make a difference and to participate in the decision making process of this country. For years, our youths stayed away from the polls, sighting all kinds of reasons for their “I don’t care” attitude towards voting.
However, a surge of youthful political energy was released across the political spectrum of this country. Whether it was APNU, AFC or PPP/C, youths were carrying the political torch and not only insisted on change but influenced it.
This has brought to the fore one important question. What was responsible for this surge in youth participation and how would it shape the future of politics in Guyana?
One can argue that a number of factors were responsible, including unemployment, high cost of living, low wages, high taxation, and crime. But those very factors were visible in 1997, 2001, 2006 and yet the participation of our young people in politics was not particularly impressive.
Therefore, there could be another explanation for this shift from complacency to activity among our youths. I am suggesting that the new media environment has contributed to the surge in the participation of our young people in the 2011 elections.
Assessing the situation, it seems clear that, social media sparked and accelerated the participation of the youths in Guyana’s democratic process.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter were tools that assisted the process by helping to organise meetings, transmit messages across constituencies and mobilise resources. It did not cause the surge-it assisted or facilitated the surge of youths at the last elections.
The effect of social media on the political process was enhanced by its speed, inexpensiveness and interactivity. Events which occurred in any part of Guyana could be seen almost in real time by those who were connected in every party of Guyana. Once you logged in, you had access to information on issues, events and actions by political parties. People knew the time, place and speakers of the next party meeting.
Interactivity makes social media different from others because it allows people not only to access information but also shape. Interactivity gives users a sense of control and power.
Their ability to navigate and interact with the medium, whether it was the computer or their mobile phone, and to be part of a virtual community reshaped and reinforced particular opinions and positions on local and national political issues.
The online/virtual political community has been attracting people with similar views on issues. Our young people are members of a community that is active, mobilised and ready for actions leading to change.
They see the world and Guyana through a different perspective because their interactions with new media and technology have developed different frames of perceptions of how the world should be as against how it is.
This has elevated the interest of our young people in politics along different levels and dimensions. It has altered the way they interact with the political process and political actors.
Social media has discentered information and has simultaneously made everyone who participated in the process, receivers and senders. Those who could not attend rallies were accorded a virtual presence and participation through media.
Again, it permitted young people beyond our national frontiers to participate, in the process. It also allowed information on the goings-on, in Guyana, to be disseminated to international organisations, groups and agencies. It allowed for feedback and support on various issues from people living overseas.
Also, our youths are receiving information on youth movements and revolutions in other parts of the world, in Egypt, Syria, and Russia. It has connected the local to the global and the global to the local.
We live in a shared social space; a global village, whose elders are gradually giving way to the younger generation with a new culture befitting the advances in technologies and new realities that are constantly and continually reshaping the world.
Whether they like it or not, the world is being taken from the unsteady hands of older generations of leaders by the firm grasp of youths. In this new environment, old has nothing to do with chronological age but the inability to adapt to new ways of thinking that would break old paradigms and make new history for a restive generation that is tired with the old order of things.
Now that the political consciousness of our young people has been awaken, it is very possible that social media could spur and accelerate a new kind of revolution, here, in Guyana because of the sense of power they now feel to create change.
They have suddenly realised that they have the right to participate in the governance of their country and to say how resources should be utilised.
They are more aware of their stake in the sustainable development of their country. It could very well be the end of Guyana as we know it- slow, exclusionary and adversarial in its politics and insensitive and unresponsive to the felt needs of its people.
Social media have become a way for people, who are frustrated with the extant social, economic and political circumstances, to organize themselves and coordinate protests and take action against certain perceptions and realities.
But it is the sheer speed with which social media disseminate information that continue to make it an extremely useful tool for people.
It is here that communications technology has had the most potent impact. I believe that in Guyana it will act as an accelerant to conditions which exist in this country. We can look forward to major changes in the way our youths think and organise themselves to take action on various issues.
It is also affecting main stream media coverage because online information and participation are resulting in offline events, which are making the news in mainstream media not only in Guyana but also in other parts of the world. It is amplifying what is happening on the ground in different local communities.
It has removed the traditional gatekeepers of information. Editorial policies of mainstream news media are no longer an issue because old media do not have the monopoly on news in society. Anyone can report anything on social media. Reflectively, the danger of this is that truth can be causality. Rumours can abound.
What is also clear is that many of the past leaders are generations older than our youths. Some of them have never used Facebook. Therefore, they are locked out of a powerful communication and mobilization tool.
The digital divide has put those leaders at a serious disadvantage because they cannot interact with and respond to the new media environment.
Therefore, their ability to communicate and mobilise is really in the shadows of a new reality facilitated by social media, which influences the way our youths see their present world and the role they are called to play in it.
The youths of Guyana have written another chapter in its history and it is on Facebook.
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