Quick, quick—here is a short history quiz for you.
Name one common event about the Arab Spring in the Middle East.
Umm, let me think—wait, wait, I know! There were several social uprisings that took place in Tehran, Egypt and Libya, among others.
Since you’re so good at this, I have one more for you.
What were some of the main tools those masses used to bring about these social revolutions?
Well, guess what?
Haitians have borrowed a page from the Arab Spring social revolutions to upset Haiti’s latest elections. And so far, the Haitian masses, activists, social media influencers and well-informed objective journalists have helped the poor score a win.
This is in spite of a major U.S. newspaper that went public and basically wrote that although the Haitian elections were marred by fraud, they were good enough for Haiti. This opinion was despite the people at every level of society who expressed concerns about massive election fraud.
Still, the newspaper encouraged Haitians—like children—to accept their lot in life because the elections must go on.
It’s fair to conclude that the newspaper’s advice failed. The second and final round of the presidential election on December 27th was forced to be postponed.
Haitian elected officials never saw social media coming
Were you following Haiti’s elections on social media and the Haitian radio stations after the October 25th results were announced?
It was initially discouraging to follow the political process and realize that there was a strong possibility that the majority of 9.5 million Haitian people would continue to make $820.00 dollars annually—this is according to a recent International Monetary Fund report.
The report led many in the Haitian diaspora to reason that the Haitian people would have no hope of a government that can focus on alleviating their poverty.
Many have expressed in public how the current president’s efforts have benefited only his friends for the most part—his family and the wishes of the international community. One person who knows this first hand is Jean H. Charles.
According to Charles’ article, “Michel Joseph Martelly’s Lieutenants Have Failed His Government” from Caribbean News Now, “The people of Haiti are as poor, if not more so than they were five years ago. The best friends of the president and of his prime ministers might have enriched themselves and the status quo generalized.”
You see, Mr. Charles has some credibility in terms of his perspectives. He was a candidate in the last Haitian election and is well-connected politically, not to mention he speaks Creole, which helped him to understand some of the cultural and linguistic nuances.
It was significant to witness the rapid mobilization on social media in just two months to help change the course of the elections. Haitians in Haiti and in the diaspora used their network to quickly communicate with the world what was going on through videos, pictures and writing, using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media channels. This was the push-back against what many in the diaspora see as a form of oppression against the poor.
The dissemination of information on social media started at the grassroots level in Haiti, and from there, the demonstrations started spreading throughout the country at the national level via Haitian journalists and radio stations. This enabled the multiple online communities to push the stories to the international level. The establishments could never regain their footing, and they underestimated the level of public dissatisfaction with the country’s condition.
Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, expressed it best when he described what Haitians were able to accomplish with social media these last few weeks. He stated that social media “… enables rapid formation of networks and demonstrates our common humanity across cultural differences. It connects people, their ideas and values, like never before.”
More Haitians are connecting to share their ideas on how they want to see concrete change through the integration of traditional media and social technologies.
Observing how the more established news outlets like Haitian Times, Radio Soleil, and Radio Tele Caraibes, among others communicated with the community through various social media channels was evidence of this. They were able to keep the Haitian society abreast of changes and engaged throughout the entire election crisis.
The occasion enabled the Haitian diaspora and those in Haiti to take action, by creating petitions, calling on their government officials in the U.S. not to support what they called an “election coup” and to share and analyze the situation coming from Haiti on social media.
It helps that Haitian Creole is the second indigenous language on Twitter
I don’t think any Haitian officials were aware of that information until recently. Some may still not be aware, but it’s true. According to the Indigenous Tweets website on Wikipedia, Haitian Creole is the second indigenous language on Twitter. This was powerful, because members in the diaspora and Haiti are able to communicate in their native tongue.
There is no data on Facebook yet, but if my feed is any indication, there is also a high percentage of Haitians on Facebook, as well. For instance, I recently wrote a post on my blog, and on Facebook alone, over 1000 people shared the post, and it had over 1900 pageviews in just about three days.
More Haitians in Haiti have a unique opportunity to be early adopters of technology
In life, like most everything else, whoever gets there first is who gets to lead. Haiti has the potential to lead in the digital space. Though it’s true, social media is a way of life for most people living in the wealthy nations— they are accustomed to the kind of power it has. And even in many wealthy countries, there are groups who are just now beginning to use and understand the power of these technologies that have been around for the past decade or so. It’s inspiring to know that Haitians are already leading in at least one of the major social media channels.
Use social media for a good cause
For the last few years, whether it’s the Middle Eastern Arab spring, the United States, with the Black Lives Matter movement, and now the fight for the poor in Haiti movement, the social media channels can be used to an advantage for those without a voice in our fractured society.
Those who don’t want Haiti to change because the status quo only benefits their interests should start to feel nervous. Omidyar summarizes it best, “The power of truth and the reach of social networks can be a threatening combination for those with something to hide.”
Indeed, for those of us who are struggling to see concrete change take place in Haiti, social technology is a secret bat.
Using technology as a tool to help elevate others
Here’s what you can do.
If you’re reading this post, it’s likely you already have access to both emails and social media. As we get ready to start a new year, make it a goal to help a family member in Haiti or wherever you live to have either access to social media or understand the basics, at a minimum. Help them by assisting them to create Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Don’t worry if they don’t know how to use them quite yet. They will learn as more tools and access to the Internet become available.
The Digicel Company has already created the environment for you to help many of our families in Haiti to have digital access. Just last week, one of my cousins called me on his cell to wish me a Merry Christmas. The company has over half of the population as cellular subscribers.
The next step is to help support them with Internet access. Imagine if five million Haitians in Haiti had access to Facebook and Twitter!
It will happen.
You can help the process along by providing the basics to connect. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for people is to help them make a connection. (Click to Tweet)
And if you are part of the diaspora and you’ve been hesitant to use social media, don’t be! If you know how to use it, you can influence what and how Haiti’s narrative is constructed, not to mention the possibility of growing your personal brand and professional network.
The future is already here—creating a personal and professional brand gives you a competitive edge.
I share the same views as Omidyar when it comes to social media. He expressed, “I believe that social media is a tool of liberation and empowerment… In countries where traditional media is a tool of control, these new social channels have the power to radically alter our world.”
Haiti is celebrating its 212th years of Independence Day from the French this week. However, the country does not resemble a place that has set an example of freedom in history.
Let’s use social media as a constructive means to alter Haiti’s world.