Social Media and T&T’s 2015 General Elections

On Monday, 7 September 2015, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) held general elections in 41 constituencies. The Peoples National Kamla vs Rowley CampaignMovement (PNM), won 23 seats with 51.68% of the votes cast and the Peoples Partnership (PP) won 18 seats with 46.64% of the votes cast. The PNM was led by Dr. Keith Rowley, who was sworn in as Prime Minister on Wednesday, 9 September 2015. The PP was led by out-going Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, of the United National Congress (UNC) with a coalition of three other parties: the Congress of the People (COP) led by  Prakash Ramadhar, the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) led by Kwesi Mutewa, and the Tobago Organization of the People (TOP) led by Ashworth Jack.

What role, if any, did social media have on the outcome of the general elections held in Trinidad & Tobago?

Social Media Usage in Trinidad & Tobago 

The number of people using social media sites regularly increase, with Facebook ranked first and YouTube second in terms of usage. A study conducted by Caribbean Ideas Agency shows that between the ages of 16 and 45, over 40% of the population use social media sites for more than 11 hours per week, with some going over 31 hours per week. Their study also shows 40% of the YouTube visitors watch videos daily.  According to Mr. Chike Farrel, the co-founder of Caribbean Ideas and a former employee at Microsoft, these statistics are on par with the rest of the world. He explained that 89% of Trinbagonians had Facebook accounts and the key for companies and political parties is to adapt quickly. Based on the aforementioned the expectation is that both political campaigns will tailor their message to the audienceS and where the spend time. The most used social media platforms in Trinidad are Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Battle of the Hashtags in lead up to T&T’s 2015 General Elections

The UNC launched a vicious smear campaign  dubbed #NoRowley No Rowley Campaign campaign prior to the 2015 general elections. Many questioned the validity of the claims although the UNC PR team claimed that is was factual.

The anti-Rowley ads were in heavy rotation, even popping up on YouTube streams:

No Rowley Campaign YouTube  Ad1

No Rowley Campaign YouTube  Ad2

The PNM used the hashtag #getoutkamla in its social media communications, though there didn’t appear to be a formal advertising campaign supporting it. The PNM did respond with an invitation to #KnowRowley. Facebook user Rhoda Bharath posted a black and white photograph of a young Rowley participating in a political march, with the comment, “He in this town a while now”:

YOUNG-ROWLEY-800x600

There was also a public #KnowRowley Facebook page, where supporters had made their own accusations against the Kamla Persad-Bissessar led government, with many maintaining that the #NoRowley campaign was racist. One Twitter user felt that the #NoRowley campaign was achieving the opposite effect from what was intended:

No Rowley Campaing Ineffective

 

Political engagement on Facebook

The supporters of the PNM and UNC were very engaged on the party groupFacebook groups 1 pages on Facebook. Independent groups also created virtual space for citizens to voice their comforts and discomforts. These groups included Speak Out T&T, UNC Scandals Yet OO, The Real PP TT and ForTT. ForTT, an investigative blog that claimed to advocate issues and revealing truth, arguably had the most significant impact in shaping public thought. The group provided Facebook users with a series of investigative reports that included the improprieties of Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Alco, Orgies & the UNC) and Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s alleged blackmailing of President Anthony Carmona (Blackmail, Bribery & the Presidency).

Facebook groups 2

 

Live streaming on YouTube

Unlike the UNC led People’s Partnership, the PNM relied heavily on live stream. All events including cottage meetings and larger public events were live streamed. The cottage meetings titled Conversations with Dr. Rowley were community meetings that showcased the candidates running for office. Attendees had the opportunity to question the candidates and Dr. Rowley during these meetings.

 

In addition to live streaming events, the PNM also made every recording available on YouTube for later viewing. Citizens had the opportunity to see and hear from all of the PNM candidates. The same cannot be said of the People’s Partnership which only announced its slate of candidates a mere 3 weeks before the election. Unlike the PP, as soon as the election date was announced the PNM began its campaign and live streams. The People’s Partnership focused on demonizing Dr. Rowley via Twitter and Facebook while the PNM focused more on showcasing its candidates and sharing its message via live streams and YouTube.

 

Take-Away

While there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to suggest that discussions and marketing on social-media tipped the 2015 T&T general election in any specific direction, it is safe to say at the very least, social-media has the ability to shape public thought, perception and participation. I do expect future political campaigns to make more use of social media in the upcoming local government and next general election in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. I’m not a very politically active person (I do vote in major elections), but it seems like social media usage in the political space (at least in T&T) is in line with social media usage overall. Some choose to use it with positive-minded goals (showcasing candidates strengths), while others choose to use it with negative-minded goals (smear campaigns). I’m sure that many/most/all use it for both. I wonder if the reason social media campaigns lose validity is that anybody with a keyboard/smartphone can voice their opinion, throw in a hashtag and suddenly they’re part of the movement. How can campaign managers keep the integrity of their campaigns (I use the word integrity VERY loosely) from the “I approve this message” we’re used to in other mediums (TV) to maintain a strong/cohesive voice in the digital space?

  2. In the future, I think social media will become more of a factor in swaying the vote. By simply looking at some of the pictures of the advertisements against Rowley, I could see how someone not politically aware (which are a lot of the voters) would be affected on a subconscious level. The advertisement is covered in evil colors and shameful words and if one saw that enough, as someone mentioned it was on almost every youtube channel, it would subconsciously make one think differently about that candidate.

    So much of our information today is given in short bursts and many of us don’t take the time to read into the issues or topics. Political campaigns probably already know this fact and will use advertisements like these much more.

  3. Great post. As someone who is unfamiliar with the candidates, it concerns me that it’s difficult to find the truth behind the campaign messages. Political smearing and tight competition creates an environment that hides the objective truth. For example, the #NORowley ads definitely cause a double take – is this candidate capable of strong leadership?

    To me, the biggest concern is how political messages are interwoven with so many other services. You may just want to stream Adele’s new album on Youtube, but first, you have to listen to the horrible offenses of the PNM leadership. How can you escape the political tension?

    Political postings on social media (and anywhere else) need to be considered with skepticism, rather than trusted at face value. Hashtags often change meaning over time, as users interact with the posting. Online fights via the comment section of a Facebook post can often divert the focus from the original message of the post.

  4. Social Media definitely has a very strong power to influence and shape public thought. The interesting thing is that although there is definitely some trickery involved with the way that parties attempt to influence the public to vote a certain way, parties generally are not going to share a lot of false information on social media (false quotes, incorrect statistics, etc) because all of this information can be cross-checked by the other party. If caught lying, it would severely hurt the party’s campaign; for example, Donald Trump’s lies about Jersey City residents cheering after 9/11 has put a major dent on his social media presence. In this regard, I find social media activity by political parties to be a phenomenal, objective, and straight-to-the-citizen addition to political systems around the globe. They are not diluted by middle-men such as the media, and the public has to think for itself after being exposed to campaigns by both sides on social media. Maybe there isn’t solid evidence that the social media campaigns tipped the T&T election one way or another, but I guarantee it made EVERYONE more aware of the real problems that were being faced in the campaign, and made everyone a smarter voter.

  5. Nice treatment of the elections using social media in a different political environment.

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