Social Media – Much More Than a Joke!

Marcia Forbes PhD

It’s important to make the deadline for my book but I’m constantly being distracted. This time it’s by the very subject on which I’m writing, social media. Very early in the morning of Nov. 30, I noticed the back and forth tweets. There was nothing on the radio news though. That’s odd, I thought, that this could have happened and no one knew. Could that story have been overtaken by the growing quagmire of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) which raged the night before with the resignation of the Minister of Transportation and which drove CVM TV into a live news broadcast at about 11:30 PM? I thought no, since this DJ is always controversial and Jamaicans take dancehall matters very seriously. Then it came on the radio waves but with the Police denying the story of a jail break by singer Vybz Kartel.

It was an unfortunate, attention-seeking blog post that set Twitter ablaze about the escape of Vybz Kartel. The post was intended to pull viewers to an otherwise unimpressive site and it worked…for now. The writer of the post admitted to Twitter that it was designed to give the website a boost. How dishonest, I thought, to blog a complete lie just for ratings. Sadly though, much of what gets posted on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and via blogs is entirely intended to drive ratings, personal or company. Admittedly, I too use social media for ratings, but not entirely as was the objective behind the Kartel jail break blog. Importantly, I steer clear of lies. News entities overseas, without conducting proper background checks on the source(s), ran with the story. Another nail in the credibility of Jamaicans as reliable sources of information!

What I find even more amazing though is the seeming absence of remorse on the part of the blogger, who eventually came out to describe the post as a hoax, as in “Vybz Kartel Prison Escape ‘A Rumor [sic] ,’ Just A Joke Haox [sic] & We Apologize”. That is how it appeared on the website at 3:45 pm on November 30, 2011 when I checked. The spelling of hoax and rumour suggests that the ‘apology’, like the blog post, is being framed as a joke. It was hardly apologetic, rather it seemed like yet another cheap publicity stunt, with the writer appearing to gloat about how the post, “blow up over Twitter as a trending topics, hit major blogs and news outlets such as MTV, The Week, Fact Magazine, The Metro among others.”

The party in question, then using Twitter, had the temerity to say that he didn’t think people would be “so stupid to believe anything in the story.” With that comment I wondered why he felt anyone would take his site seriously henceforth. Is that how he regards his readers, stupid to believe what he writes? His refusal to take any responsibility for his action was also reflected in this tweet where he put the blame squarely on the media houses, “they didn’t even do their dillegence [sic] in following up in a journalistic capacity; which it’s their fault. They went over the top.” To her credit, another Twitter user @avahtaylor “held his feet to the fire” and responded, “but you didn’t hold yourself to any journalistic standard when you fabricated the story!”

One major objective of researching and writing a book about social media (well it’s really two books), is to sensitize youths to the fact that social media is not just a joke. There is a lot of teasing and joking but real work can and does get done via social media in all its various forms. Importantly, serious things happen as a consequence of material posted on social networks and blogs. One such is that people’s reputation can get besmirched all for a good laugh by some selfish, immature, attention-seeking person. Such persons should be warned though. Their days of recklessness are drawing to an end as increasingly people are being sued for libelous statements published via these routes. Employers are also scouring the Internet, including social media, for the digital footprints of potential employees. A post like that hoax would likely put its originator at the bottom of many employers’ list.