'Jinx', Bolt and the power and danger of social media

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

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The social media revolution is not over, by far. One can safely conclude that it has had possibly the greatest impact on free speech and communication of all times, rivalling the newspaper and even threatening its existence. But that, of course, is not the end of the story.

Recently, we've seen a demonstration of the sheer power, but also the danger, of social media in all its unbridled glory, when the wife of entertainer Sean Paul, Mrs Jodi Stewart-Henriques, popularly called 'Jinx', complained about intolerable noise coming from a neighbouring property in upscale Norbrook, St Andrew, allegedly owned by Mr Usain Bolt, the revered runner and world's fastest man.

"Between the bikes... loud, horrid music, parties and screams, I honestly wish he would go back to where he came from. He's a horrible neighbour. I cannot wait to move," 'Jinx' posted on Facebook. She added that her recourse to the police for help had been futile because "it's Bolt".

The complaint went viral on social media and had tongues wagging intensely, until 'Jinx' issued a comprehensive apology, which suggested that something happened in the interim to make her change her mind about the tone and content of her initial complaint.

"After some much-needed introspection, I would like to publicly apologise for the comments made about Usain Bolt. Not only were they unwarranted, but also highly inappropriate, and for this I am truly sorry," she said in a letter to the editor.

"My intention was never to degrade or disrespect anyone, but without realising, I did. I allowed pent-up frustration to get the better of me and did not conduct myself in a respectful manner. I apologise to those persons who I hurt, including friends, family, my husband, and the Jamaican people at large, but especially Usain Bolt."

The problem is that whether the apology was coerced from her by her husband or Mr Bolt's lawyers, or was genuinely of her own decision, the damage was already done. Mr Bolt being world renowned made the international news as a result, and not for breaking a record!

It is instructive that the letter of apology was sent to a newspaper. We are not at all surprised.

If indeed the complaint was first sent to a newspaper that follows the tenets of journalism, efforts would have been made to ascertain the truth of Mrs Stewart-Henriques' complaint, with comments from Mr Bolt, prior to publication.

But that is where the difference between traditional news media and social media lies. Information on social media is not often cleansed before posting. There is little incentive to do so and people are often hurt by that information. In the traditional news media, there are checks and balances prior to publication, or severe penalties in law, such as suits for defamation.

Credibility remains the most important currency in the jungle that is today's communications media. It is precisely here that newspapers have the edge over social media.

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