EDITORIAL: Of free speech and politics
Tue, 08/09/2016 - 12:00am
THE United States election cycle has been simultaneously gripping, amusing and downright baffling. One of the more recent snafus has been Melania Trump’s admitted plagiarism of some of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. First brought to the public’s attention by an out-of-work journalist who posted the similarities on social media, it then snowballed into a bizarre circus that introduced the children’s show “My Little Pony” into the matter as a form of defence. Fact sometimes is indeed stranger than fiction.
Of course, anything that juicy in politics of the modern era means that memes, gifs and video clips have been made to poke fun at the matter. In one particularly memorable set of memes, a hashtag was created of “famous” quotes by Mrs. Trump that were ironically and hilariously famous lines from others in history. The intersection of entertainment, commentary of serious matters and late night laughs has kept this particular election one of the more interesting ones in recent memory. However, it does feel at times that these blown-out-of-proportion, amusing gaffes distract more than educate, and gloss over just how serious the stakes are. Choosing a political candidate should be focused on the candidate and his or her policies, abilities and intentions. We are aware, however, that – even here in the Caribbean – a generous splash of entertainment sways people more often than they may wish to admit.
Given the fervent online interactions between commentators, it brings to mind an interesting debate about freedom of speech and how some people believe they have the right to say anything they want to online. Political spectacles have moved to a truly technological phase and as one would expect, the online barrage is at times relentless. However, just because one can say anything one wishes, does not always mean one should, or that it is prudent to do so. Two contrasting cases – though not directly political – are of interest. African-American actress Leslie Jones was recently hit by a barrage of offensive tweets with some messages comparing her to a gorilla. Twitter permanently banned the man deemed responsible for the attacks; in response, his supporters created a hashtag defending his freedom to say whatever he wanted online.
How does this relate to us in Barbados? A visit to any popular online outlet would show that some people have no problems telling as it is against the party or politician that is targeted. Some online blogs are freely spreading stories that are salacious and damaging to persons’ reputations; whether they are true or not, is another matter all together.
As our political season heats up, we know this election will be keenly contested and bring increased commentary by party faithfuls and neutral observers. Since Barbados is increasingly technologically sophisticated, we anticipate more online chatter on social media blogs. We must remember however in our fervour to express ourselves, we still have to watch the line between passion and spite or vehemence and hatred. Our North American neighbours are instructive enough on the danger of how extreme rhetoric can sway the public to behave strongly and irrationally. We would hope that voters become informed enough to make a calculated thought towards their candidate of choice; unfortunately, that voice of reason is too often drowned out by razzmatazz.