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Haiti is at a turning point right now.
For the first time in Haiti’s history, there are tools that we can use to reset the button on the one-sided narrative that mainstream media seems bent on using to shape Haiti’s story – they are the Internet and social media. For decades, the big corporate media has controlled the stories we’ve seen and believed, and this in turn influences some of our belief systems about specific groups and countries.
However, if you’re Haitian and are concerned about how stories are shared through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, etc.) you now have the same power as the traditional media outlets to undo or stop the digital damage.
Social media is an incredible resource because of its ability to quickly connect the voiceless on important issues. See my post on How Haitians Have Used Social Media to Upset Haiti’s Elections Like an 1804 Boss.
But not all digital voices are there to provide a balanced story or to support equality. In fact, there are many who act as agents on social media simply to maintain Haiti’s “negative” narrative through writing and images.
If you’ve neither been to Haiti nor have Haitian friends, you would think that Haiti is the land of disaster, because that’s how the media portrays it. But that is not the whole story of Haiti. It’s time, as a Haitian, that you play a role in the remedy of this story.
This post is to share with you three ways to recognize when the mainstream media is using its power to marginalize Haiti in the digital globe.
Here are the three signs:
1. Pay attention to the faulty narratives about Haiti that are presented as facts
Be alert whenever a writer references Haiti as the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere” without stating the fact that ever since Haiti defeated the French army to gain its independence, it has been punished for its audacity. The story needs to be balanced by including that the country has been punished by isolation, embargo, and aid by several “friends” of Haiti.
A colleague and I were speaking a few days ago, and the topic of Haiti came up during our discussion—if you know me, that is not unusual. This is a colleague who is socially well-rounded, intelligent, and abreast of current events. When we were discussing Haiti and its recent political crisis, she had no idea that Haiti had won a battle against the French, yet she was quite aware that Haiti is the “poorest” country in the Caribbean.
The mainstream media has been very effective in creating Haiti’s faulty narrative. When you read an article about Haiti, pay attention to how quickly a foreign journalist points to Haiti’s poor status versus when a Haitian writes about the country. Some facts are naturally excluded when foreigners tell Haiti’s story.
Quick tip on shaping Haiti’s narrative: If you start reading an article, and you sense a writer is committing the act of intellectual laziness by rehashing the same “poorest country” narrative, then it’s your responsibility as a reader to stop the piece by not sharing it. Be conscious of the subtle messages—don’t share or tweet it.
2. Pay attention to the heroes in Haiti’s story
This is important. Most foreigners who write about Haiti don’t understand Haiti and its complexities. And unfortunately, some assume that one experience in Haiti equates to being a Haitian expert. There has to be a level of understanding that goes beyond superficiality when it comes to understanding Haiti’s culture, language, and life if one is to do Haiti some justice in writing about it.
Another way to know when Haiti is being marginalized is to identify whether the hero looks Haitian or has any strong connection to Haiti. If the hero resembles your commonplace Hollywood character, then the story is most likely going to marginalize Haiti.
As I mentioned above, Haiti has a convoluted and tragic history. Even as a Haitian-born, when I go to Haiti, I’m often seen as an outsider despite being able to socially connect with my fellow people in heart and in mind. Thus, it’s a mystery to me how boldly some of the foreign writers claim Haiti’s experience as their own with no depth of understanding.
If you’re on social media, you probably have the same kind of influence as some of the major networks with the power of a tweet or a share. In fact, in many instances, the major news outlets have to wait for you to share what is happening locally in Haiti before they know the latest development. You have access to the local radio stations online, and you are getting the story directly from home in your own language. Shouldn’t you be the leading writer in shaping Haiti’s story?
I think so.
Quick tip on shaping Haiti’s narrative: If you find a compelling story that you think is worthy of sharing, but the hero is about someone or something else other than Haiti, by all means, share it. But do use the opportunity as a teaching moment by adding your own comments to bring enlightenment from a Haitian perspective to the flawed story. This is not to say a non-Haitian cannot do justice to a story about Haiti, but I find it rare. There are some exceptions to the rules, but most of the headlines confirm what we see.
3. Pay attention to the power of your tweets, re-tweets and shares
The tweets, re-tweets, and images you share digitally have power to elevate Haiti or to add to its marginalization. This sense of awareness and personal connection are paramount, so how you use your influence on social media needs to be thoughtful. After witnessing the mainstream media’s attempt to create a sense of helplessness and a need for a savior these past few months, I’ve become more conscious about what I tweet and share about Haiti.
We know Haiti cannot compete with the strengths of the mainstream media corporations, but those of us who are determined to change the story can collectively become Haiti’s strengths and change the marginal digital narrative.
I’ll share a personal observation: during Haiti’s recent political upheaval, several of the major online news networks watched four months of massive street protests and the forced cancellation of the fraudulent elections. People at every level of Haitian society agreed that corruption took place, but in an effort to save face, some of the major networks started writing a narrative that made it appear that the masses were dangerous, and that is why the elections were cancelled.
Some of the mainstream media never mentioned how the “core group” had completely lost control of Haiti’s elections because of its refusal to address the realities on the ground.
The same news outlets reported that the elections were cancelled due to violence from the people. If it were not for some of the activists on social media informing the world about police brutality and oppression, the outcomes would have been different. Indeed, there was violence, but it was from all sides, and it was mostly provoked by the abuse of power.
Quick tip on shaping Haiti’s narrative: Own your story. Become a contributor to your own story.The Internet is a tool that can be used to help change how Haiti is shaped.