Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 31st 2015 Contents A32
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, March 31, 2015
"I always cheer up immensely if an attack is par-
ticularly wounding because I think, well, if they
attack one personally, it means they have not a
single political argument left." ---Margaret Thatcher
A week ago, I thought it prudent to invite the
nation s politicians to consider the tuning fork res-
onance that their more outrageous statements
might have online in social media circles and more
specifically, in the special interest echo chamber
that Facebook has become.
That warning suggested that the middle-class
voter, likely to be less undecided than uncommitted
until the last possible moment, and generally active
in largely underplotted and impossible to monitor
social groupings and discussions on the service,
would contemplate, for some time, the statements
and intent of potential candidates on the campaign
That was before Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Minister
in the Ministry of the People and Social Development,
privilege during the
unusual motion of
no confidence in
Dr Keith Rowley, to
launch a character
attack on a scale
in this country s sit-
tings of both Houses.
pin called on Dr
Rowley to answer
questions that were
not just irrelevant to
the nation s busi-
ness, but also called
into question her
judgement in the
execution of her own
responsibilities in a
ministry created to
address social injus-
It was an attack so vile and upsetting that any of
her colleagues who unequivocally sided with it risk
being tarred with a political smear so indelible that
it will prove difficult to remove even in the heat of
the upcoming election campaign.
Mrs Alleyne-Toppin has since apologised, after a
fashion, satisfying almost nobody that the more
vulgar and unfortunate aspects of her statement,
read from a prepared script, have been satisfactorily
I hold no brief for Dr Rowley, the subject of this
mischambered attack, and have noted in this space
my own concerns about his own Parliamentary attack,
now known as emailgate, a matter that I ve held
since the first statement, was his accusation to prove.
Such bacchanalist fare, however, is protected by
the freedoms afforded to politicians within the cham-
bers of Parliament, but nowhere else.
To repeat the statements made by Mrs Alleyne-
Toppin on a soapbox in Woodford Square or, indeed,
in statuses or responses on Facebook is to risk legal
censure at the very least.
That s a truth that seems to elude Facebook com-
menters and it s worth repeating for clarity.
It doesn t matter if someone else says it. If you
are recorded writing something libellous or circulating
a video in which libel is being uttered, it becomes
your statement and you are responsible for it.
As with a stolen mango, it doesn t matter who
picked it, who threw it over the fence or who put
it in the bag. If a police officer appears and you have
the bag of mangoes, you re the thief.
Parliament will be prorogued soon and that privilege
will disappear, along with the luxury of plain speaking
without legal consequence.
Political slander in the time of Facebook
The nation will, after that, be plunged into
long dark months of innuendo, accusation and
picong that look set to hallmark an election
campaign that will be waged on the effective-
ness of mutual broadsides aimed at character;
warnings of impending economic doom should
the wrong choices be made in the voting booth
and bacchanal of the lowest order.
This will be no silly season, but a nasty one
and vileness slung aloft rarely chooses its land-
ing points with care.
Much of this will make its way onto the
Internet generally and Facebook in particular.
There will be sock puppets engaging you using
fake profiles, pages and groups designed to
ensnare specific interests and catnip aplenty
prepared for anyone with either a ready temper
or an axe to grind.
Expect screenshots, both real and faked to
be circulated regularly, suspicious looking posts
to show up with greater regularity and adver-
The aggressive abundance of the campaign
trail is about to appear on your computer
screen, and it won t just be pretty flags waving
with vigor. Be ready for it.
Dr Keith Rowley has
stood on both ends of poorly
substantiated attacks in
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