How We Tweet
Debbie Ransome on how Caribbean people tweet today
I have to admit that since the BBC closed its Caribbean Service in 2011, I have become addicted to Twitter.
As head of the service, it was my job to clear the office after the BBC World Service cuts.
And while I was shredding files, delivering the service’s archive of programmes to UWI and handing back the keys to a newly vacant newsroom, some members of the team across the Caribbean and in the US said they wanted to stay in touch.
So we did. In true Caribbean and diaspora fashion, we used the tools available to achieve our end. And I found, to my delight, that parts of this community did not break up with the end of our broadcasts; they simply moved on to other platforms.
For some, it was on BBM (Blackberry Messenger). For others, it was by email. But the most far-reaching link was via Twitter. Within that medium, I found some members of the news community that I'd been in touch with over the years. Yet I also made contact with a new wave of tweeters: not journalists, but informed Caribbean people sharing their views on the news and cultural agenda.
And that's how our What's the Buzz page was born.
In setting up this venture – Caribbean Intelligence© – with the help of longtime colleagues, I’ve become curious about the way Caribbean people approach social media.
I'm not even going to pretend that this is the definitive thesis on how people tweet in the Caribbean - there are many admirable people already doing this. But it is a snapshot of what this journalist found on her journey through the Twittersphere (or Twitterverse: this linguistic use is also changing as we form our social media habits).
Twitter and the Caribbean citizen
In later issues of Caribbean Intelligence, we’ll look, with some help from fellow journalists, at the different platforms we choose to use to stay in touch as a widespread diaspora.
For this first edition, let’s look at the tweeting habits of Caribbean people, the Caribbean diaspora and those who simply have an interest in things Caribbean. This is based on personal experience as I stayed in touch with Caribbean colleagues, both in the region and in the diaspora, after one of their favourite water cooler points (at Bush House) had ceased to be.
This meant taking a plunge into the Twitter pool of communal knowledge, which I heartily recommend to anyone with intellectual curiosity.
The first obvious fact is that Caribbean people twitter in VERY different ways. From the beleaguered nation of Haiti, the majority of tweets are about serious reconstruction business. Hard Hats 4 Haiti (#HardHats4Haiti) keeps people updated on post-quake work and invites people to follow the rebuilding work and contribute to it.
When there was another tremor earlier this year, Haitians left their houses immediately. This isn’t surprising after their experiences two years ago in the devastating January 2010 earthquake. What is new is the fact that many Haitians run outside their buildings clutching their mobiles and tweeting to the outside world about their latest fate.
Even in more peaceable times, Haitian tweets follow official visits to neighbouring countries in search of funds, support and general help for Haiti.
Tweeting and cultural pride
In neighbouring Jamaica, the strong sense of national pride rings out in every tweet. People highlight and scrutinise their music, their icons, their food, their tourism.
The media houses of Jamaica provide an interesting mix of local, national and regional news. This is different from many of the other media houses in other territories which, on the whole, reflect a local agenda and do not tweet as much about regional and international news.
From Trinidad, you can enjoy the Trinidadian love of sharing thoughts on being a Trini, on great Trinidadian food experiences anywhere on the planet and an active promotion of Trini culture, which extends to open lobbying.
For example, there was the well-organised Twitter campaign in early March to promote Trini soca artist Farmer Nappy on MTV: http://www.socarevolution.com/2012/03/vote-for-farmer-nappy-on-mtv.html. The Trini Twittersphere went viral overnight on the eve of the voting deadline.
Did it work? Oh yes! Farmer Nappy did win MTV Iggy’s “Artiste of the week” slot and the tweeting lobby from Trinidad and the Trini diaspora were suitably proud.
Rally round the West Indies
And while we’re talking about lobby campaigns on Twitter, one of the most high-profile has been the campaign to pull together a Twitter army to rally round the West Indies cricket team (http://twitter.com/#!/westindies). As of June 2012, the site had more than 13,000 followers – many expressing fervent support from all over the world – and all of them reflecting the love of the Windies in bad as well as good times.
The Windies’ first Test against Australia in Barbados, in April of this year, prompted a sidebar stream of tweeting while watching the cricket. Those watching retweeted the exciting parts; those on the move, like myself, shared the excitement in a vicarious way by checking their tweets. Some tweeted in with their gratitude; Twitter became the eyes and ears for fans unable to sit down and enjoy a full Test. In our busy world, that almost amounts to a public service.
I enjoyed the comments of Caribbean people all over the planet sharing their joy of rallying round the West Indies. David Rudder, who wrote the definitive anthem for Windies cricket fans, would have been proud of them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Rudder).
And that’s when the potential of Twitter and its use for a dispersed diaspora came home to me.
We in the diaspora can’t always be planning a trip home, on a plane home or dreaming of the Caribbean. I can enjoy a Caribbean existence at a distance on a grey afternoon in London, New York or Toronto. No wonder Twitter is doing so well.
But enough of this “in praise of Twitter" eulogy. Let’s get back to Caribbean people and what draws us to social media.
Food, glorious food
Next we come to the culinary tweets. As Caribbean people, we love our food. We talk about it ahead of any lime, after the lime, around special events and definitely on a day-to-day basis (and if limin' is a foreign concept to you, read about it here: http://gocaribbean.about.com/od/culturesandpeople/g/Limedefinition.htm.)
Food partly defines the Caribbean mixed heritage of Africa, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, European and everything else in there. The Trinidadian phrase for this racial mix-up is even a dish: “All ah we is calalloo”. (See here: http://museumvictoria.com.au/immigrationmuseum/whatson/past-exhibitions/callaloo/callaloo-mixing-it-up/).
Around Easter, I found my mouth watering as Jamaicans competed via Twitter to find the best Easter bun.
At the same time, veteran Jamaican-based tweeter Annie Paul kept us laughing about what she was eating during her travels to India.
And Trinifood, by former BBC Caribbean producer and major foodie Franka Phillip, does what it says on the tin. I recommend not reading it on an empty stomach – it will only make you dribble and yearn....
My former boss at the Caribbean News Agency and at the BBC, the late Hugh Crosskill, once said that we would pull together better as Caribbean people if we could all manage to pronounce “Caribbean” in the same way. That still hasn’t happened.
However, it's been heartening to see and follow how a sense of Caribbean identity is shared in the Twittersphere.
Whether it's food, cricket, travel, politics or community support, our emerging use of some social media means that for island communities and a far-flung diaspora, we're only ever a tweet away from home.
(Editor’s note: Caribbean Intelligence will be following the main Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora news twitter feeds on this website Caribbean-intelligence.com)