The New Influencers
“When we debate,” said Prakash Ramadhar in Parliament last week, “the only winners must be the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
When the Legal Affairs Minister made the statement he was not referring to the Reshmi Ramnarine affair, in which a clearly unqualified person was thrust into the leadership role at a national security agency, but he might as well have been. The ensuing debate about her suitability and the government’s insensitivity (some say stupidity) put two things into focus: the power of social media and the importance of the new influencers.
I actually first heard of Ramnarine’s appointment when Renee Cummings, a former journalist and criminologist posted the story as a link on her facebook profile. Cummings (disclosure both Cummings and I were journalists together at TV6) did not break the story, the Express did. But it was Cummings’ status updates along with other key influencers on facebook that roused the public’s emotions to a fiery cadence and brought an intelligence and even tongue in cheek humour to the debate. This kind of conversation works well on social platforms.
Here are a few of Cummings’ updates during the first few hours after the appointment was announced:
“Imagine Obama appointing a clerical worker the head of the CIA? Lol.
“SIA; the new URP? Lol”
“It is not a question of age, ethnicity or gender; it is a question of ‘qualifications’ unless of course you don’t understand the importance of being qualified.”
At one point Cummings fielded hundreds of comments, questions and responses on facebook. On Saturday when Ramnarine’s resigned citing “the high-level of exposure over the past few days,” one could not help but ask: what impact did non-traditional media have on the discourse?
The answer would be plenty.
Clearly the voices of traditional influencers such as government and media are being augmented, maybe even surpassed by people with combined experience, passion, voice and audience. Cummings and the other social influencers posted on the topic constantly. They were passionately interested in demonstrating the unfairness of the appointment (Cummings sought the opinion of a FBI expert) and engaged with a frequency that demonstrated their intention to inform and shift opinion.
These are the new influencers with tools that are fit to purpose. They are not folks necessarily with millions of followers rather they are the ones who are truly ‘engaged,’ based on the frequency of their updates and how many times their posts are linked to, commented upon and re-tweeted.
They are the ones to watch because they allow for a debate where the winners are the people.