Sep 17, 2020 Editorial
President Irfaan Ali has come out swinging from the hips and with a glint in his eye. This was forcefully conveyed by the caption: “Pres. Ali vows crackdown of race hate on social media” (KN September 12). We hope that this is one vow that the president will fulfill faithfully, while leaving no stone unturned to introduce meaningful change.
This is a laudable commitment from the new leader, and one that has much significance for Guyana. For Guyanese use of social media, to a searing degree, has deteriorated to the septic tanks. It is like two warring neighbours separated by an electronic fence, who seize every opportunity to hurl what is insulting, that which damages not just the immediate neighbour targeted, but the whole community, and which sets the stage for later fateful eruption. What has occurred on social media between Guyana’s racial camps has gone on for too long and holds untold potential to flare into things more dangerous and, ultimately, most destructive.
The big question that comes to mind is: Why not before? It is to the discredit of the previous coalition government that it allowed local social media to become such a vulgar and venomous presence, saturated with much vileness and racial vindictiveness. From our perspective, this cyber outlet should have and could have been overseen better. That was a no-brainer, other than for possible technology challenges.
It should have started, quite reasonably, with firm and insistent calls from leaders of both sides of the political divide to cease and desist from that which demeans and devastates, which incurs deeper and greater rages, and which leaves this society tarnished and tattered still further. That could not have been too difficult for leaders to do consistently, to even ‘out’ a few of their own who crossed dangerous lines, if only to set precedent and example. The sole objective was that others would toe the line of civility and represent race and party in a wholesome manner. But no leader, other for a few lukewarm and haphazard calls, more for the record than anything else, stepped forward and asked supporters to do the right thing. That is, take the high ground, the ground that none travels in this country.
But now, here is the new president, who has vowed to do something, to bring about real change. We are with him and behind him on this one but only if he is serious and genuinely committed to clean house, and to foster some much-needed sanity into our conversations, if they can so be termed. We will support him every step of the way. Because if we don’t, then we are contributing to the hostile and aggressive environment that now exists. It is a terribly scorched earth permitted to run wild and the rights and sensitivities of others trampled upon with disdain.
We were wounded and hurting since December 2019, with sharp climaxing post March 2, immeasurable damage has been done, damage of the worst racial kind. It is the kind that seeks any opening for vicious expression. Now that the president, as officially supported by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), has sworn to do something, we watch and wait for results.
Citizens, commentators, and contributors all have an obligation to be mature and responsible. In practical terms, to work hard to purge from our sight, our hearts, our soul those poisons that imperil. We must hold ourselves accountable and our peers, too, regardless of affiliation. For, most unfortunately, cyber channels in this country simply convey what coalesces within and with almost criminal conviction.
Many do so when they weaponize social media to demonize perceived enemies, real, manufactured, or imagined. There must be strong standards that come from forceful efforts at cyber sanitizing. Social media presences can be assertive without being combative; frank without deteriorating to flagrant racist follies.
The government should give the ERC the tool and resources it needs. Equip and empower it with laws and the financial and Human Resources strengths that would make it to do a better job of policing the local cyber state. As we have heard, seen, or read, it can be the darkest and most destructive of states. May successes follow in this endeavour.
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