BitDepth 798 - September 06

A young girl's video rant triggers a strong national security response.
New rule: publishing is publishing
Among the posts to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan’s personal Facebook page are repeated urgings to deal with an offensive Facebook video.

In a midday address to media on the subject of one young girl’s Facebook rant, the Attorney General threatened that to turn his attention to social media as a source of potentially inflammatory statements.
I’m in at least two minds about this. 

Planning to turn the legislative screws tight on social media access on the basis of one silly if undeniably abrasive video rant seems a bit excessive, particularly in a legal climate in which such an action is beyond challenge with the constitution in temporary suspension.
Pursuing that line of approach seems disturbingly Orwellian, and under the current State of Emergency, we are all subject to the whims of a big brother with particularly big guns.

My other thought runs to the rather wild and emotionally undisciplined outbursts that tend to flourish in popular local groups on Facebook, posts that often breach even the rather liberal protocols of Internet discourse and are often libellous and distasteful. Under normal circumstances, some pointed legal frowning at such illiterate and ill-considered absurdities would be welcomed.

Taking the offending video as a case in point, it’s clear that for many locals, Facebook and to a lesser extent other Internet based media such as blogs and Twitter have become a kind of virtual Woodford Square for airing opinions, but one in which everyone has an equal opportunity to air their opinions.
Unfortunately, unlike a hotheaded argument in the square, posts and videos can be screen captured and downloaded for reference and in this case, can become subject to legal review.

The subject of the Attorney General’s annoyance responded sensibly to the anger over her tirade (no doubt prompted by parents) and posted an apology video to Facebook. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar took the high road, accepting the child’s apology and asking to meet the girl to talk.

What’s going on here?
If I’m to gauge from the nervous messages about the AG’s threat to more closely monitor Facebook, the popular social network has become a kind of citizen’s paper for opinion and information sharing. The distinction between a newspaper columnist and letter writer disappear, and the most active participants are prolific as contributors in both roles.

The video that the young girl recorded was probably done in the privacy of her home using a webcam. There appears to be a bed behind her and a handwritten piece of paper with her nom de guerre. The clip seems to have been created for a circle of friends.
Then, it went viral and everybody saw it, jumping from a pond of friends into the wider seas of mass media. It’s here we begin to understand the real meaning of the term, “the medium is the message.” Out of the context of friends who know her, the blustery rant became a national security threat in one recontextualising step.

Her story has an intriguing parallel with the experience of Joe Lipari, who also
vented on Facebook with even more disastrous results.
It’s useful to understand that this incident isn’t really about the State of Emergency. It’s about the responsibilities that come with publishing, even on a personal basis. There’s a fundamental difference between griping about the Government and the curfew over beers or nail polish in a lime and fixing that those thoughts in tangible form.

Words are weapons and the government is currently empowered to seize them.
It shouldn’t have taken the razor nerves of the current legal situation to point out that the only defence that journalists, whether amateur or professional, can raise is truth, shared with intelligence and clarity.
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