The New Influencers

The New Influencers

Social Media | Judette Coward-Puglisi

January 24, 2011

“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.


One thought on “The New Influencers

  1. Hm. I think there was a LOT of BBMing about that one, as there is about whatever distracts the chattering classes. I think it served as a useful distraction from whatever the government wanted to be done, without the inconvenience of public scrutiny. Probably the enactment of the unrepealed Property Tax, or significant changes in the maxi-taxi procurement and regulation process. Or maybe another Constitutional amendment in the name of "law and order".

    I suspect that it was deliberate, myself. Misdirection is the wannabe authoritarian’s best friend.


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