Comment First & Read Later

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News
Arley Gill

The Problem with Public Discussions in the Era of Social Media

By Arley Salimbi Gill

Social media platforms can be powerful stages for discussions in the public sphere. These platforms afford us easy access to audiences across cultures and continents. Facebook has close to three billion monthly active users. Unfortunately, Facebook did not come with a users’ manual and people use the platform to instigate, agitate and react, without conducting their own research on issues they choose to critique.

In this era of social media, great dialogue and debates, and thoughtful reflection and serious engagement with the written word, seem to be dying a slow death. We can agree to disagree, but first, let us find common ground. One way to establish common ground is by reading articles before critiquing or casting judgement on the author’s intention and purpose for writing.

Personally, I enjoy being on social media. I appreciate that I can have the latest sports reports, global news, and current affairs at my fingertips. I am also quite aware that social media platforms can be sites of misinformation, “tebe,” and—oftentimes—the twenty-first century version of “throwing words” or “quarreling over the hedge.” This is often the case with social media users who post their opinions on Facebook.

Sadly, too many users who comment, tag, and share on Facebook are not interested in serious, substantive debates and discussion—because they have no interest in engaging with the written word. They seem to prefer “throwing words” or “quarrelling over the hedge”, and stirring up “tebe” and confusion based on their ill-informed opinions. I have a case that proves my point.

Weeks ago, I authored an article in which I shared my reflections of INTERCOL 2024 and my recommendations for future games. My goal for the article was to stimulate positive engagement from Grenadians from all walks of life on INTERCOL and on sports in general in Grenada.

I highlighted key issues from the games and made a couple of salient points on the future of sports development in Grenada. Days after the article was published, I received phone calls from friends about the “stir” I was causing on Facebook. I was unaware of the unfolding social media brawl until someone tagged me in a Facebook post. I took a quick look and shook my head in dismay. The people creating the stir clearly did not read the article, nor took the time to think critically about the points I was making in the written piece. If the latter is true, our education system is in trouble.

What did I say in my article that created this stir? In the piece, I referenced a Grenada island-wide torch-bearing event. I also rightly mentioned that there was no officially organized national sporting event as part of the 50th anniversary of independence celebration.

However, Facebook users commenting on the article missed the point that I mentioned a torch-bearing event in my article and, instead, they took the time to remind me that there was an event—involving swimming, cycling, running and more. If commenters had simply googled “torch-relay”, the search would have yielded the following: “an event during which a ceremonial torch is carried on a designated route by a succession of torchbearers. This ceremonial event is not considered a national sporting event. It is ceremonial; not competitive.’’

In hindsight, I will take blame for this Facebook “stir” because I did not differentiate between a ceremonial event and a competitive event. Cricket, football and basketball are competitive sports, even when billed as “friendly” sporting events. Also, I should have been clearer in stating what I envision for our 50th anniversary independence celebration is a series of national sporting events or competitions. For example, interparish Under 19 and Senior Cricket competitions; interparish football, or even club football, where all clubs—regardless of division—participate in a knockout competition or whatever format. The same would be true for interparish basketball, table tennis, and other sports.

My point is a simple one. There should be organized competitive sporting events for our sportspeople, as part of our golden jubilee celebration. Not having sports as a central part of our celebration was an unfortunate oversight on the part of everyone involved. I am disappointed that I, and others, did not flag this faux pas until it was too late; and, that the people who chose to engage on this topic missed the key point—sports should never be an afterthought if we are serious about sports development and, specifically, youth development.

Furthermore, Facebook users should never be so obsessed with protecting and defending their political interests that they spend their time and efforts digging for a needle in the haystack, while the bigger and more salient point is right in front of them.

My hope is that the people who selectively chose the points they wanted to comment on from the INTERCOL article or simply did not read the article— commenters I refer to as “nonreaders” —would read the article once-and-for-all. And, in doing so, they will catch the point I was making when I wrote the following in the article: “To be fair to the organizers, I did not hear any public lobbying from our sporting organizations.”

The truth of the matter is that many of our sporting organizations are hanging on by a thread or even dormant. They are like our two calypso associations. These organizations and associations exist but they are not growing, thriving nor flourishing. Their perpetual state of dormancy and decline is slowly killing certain sporting disciplines. Our independence celebration is an opportunity, in my respectful view, to ignite some activities in these organizations.

Clearly, not everyone will agree with me on everything I write; however, if you are a lover of sports and youth development in this country, you would admit that some of our sporting disciplines are spiraling downwards, and that sports will always be a powerful engine for youth development. To insert party politics into everything is dangerous and shortsighted—our sportspeople deserve better than being an afterthought. Thanks, Roger Byer, for reminding us to keep cycling on the list as we think of future sporting events.

Similarly, I find it hilarious that people who did not read the article (nonreaders) went as far as interpreting my observation as a wholesale attack on the golden jubilee celebration. Their interpretation is furthest from the truth. Where I do agree with the Facebook commenters is in their favourable assessment of the 50th anniversary celebration. I was able to attend several events and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

We Should All Be Proud of Our Athletes and Our Organizers—CARIFTA Was a Big Success

I cannot write on sports without a note on the recently held CARIFTA Games in Grenada. I completely enjoyed it! From my observations— the planning, organizing and final execution of the games were brilliant! And congratulations to our athletes. Thank you for proudly representing our nation!

I was impressed. After visiting the market on CARIFTA Saturday at fore-day morning— getting the world’s best fruits and vegetables—officials and organizers were already at the grounds. Similarly, organizers and officials were at the grounds late the night before (Friday night) as well. What a show of commitment and dedication.  A job well done!

However, as we revel in our CARIFTA accomplishments, let us take a moment to remember our CARIFTA swim team, and to Sara Dowden and her family— nuff love, respect and solidarity to you and your family. We send you comfort in this time of loss.

I took in the Sportsmax coverage in the mornings, and oh, what a breath of fresh air—the commentary was spectacular! I learnt a great deal about the athletes and the history of the CARIFTA Games. The commentary was truly world class. One can only hope that Grenada’s INTERCOL commentators appreciated my recommendations.

Another observation is that— by-and-large—athletes from Jamaica, Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago were poised and comfortable in front of the cameras during interviews. They answered their questions well. This is an area that Grenada needs to work on with our athletes; teachers this one is on you— you will need to collaborate with our coaches. We are preparing our athletes for the world stage.

If you were not at the Kirani James Stadium, you missed a regional sporting treat. I could not understand why there were empty seats. We were told that the two main pavilions were sold out. I inquired and was assured that the tickets for the games were sold out; we cannot blame the organizers for people not showing up in larger numbers.

Grenadians may have decided to stay at home and watch the games from the comfort of their living rooms. This is a new age we are living in; however, our young athletes need to hear our chants and roars in person and from a live audience.

Regarding the final race of the games, I am still a bit annoyed, and our boys should know that they are true champions! I do not know what went wrong with our equipment or whatever else happened. From National Champs, I observed that our starting of races was not seamless. Whatever happened—as a spectator—it was clear that something went awry! Is there anything we could have done before CARIFTA to fix what was wrong? In any case, it left a bitter taste in our mouths.

We must look ahead. I am not big on long celebrations—recognizing that we have more work to do. For example, we must ensure that we invest in our athletes and that includes their nutritional needs and medical coverage.

I believe that national athletes with serious injuries should have their medical bills paid for by the state. The national lottery should help offset this cost, or a special fund should be established to cover medicals, including out-of-state specialists as well as travel and lodging costs, if needed. Such a transformative initiative is needed in sports. We cannot leave it solely up to parents to cover this cost, which is usually expensive and, in most cases—parents simply cannot afford it.

We must also move toward first class accommodation for our athletes. It should be a goal that we move away from bunk-bedding. I hope our athletic teams in the future are not limited due to budget. Grenada is “big boy” now in Track and Field; let us act like it!

As we think about the future, we should also invest in proper acoustics for the stadium’s public address (PA) system. Using microphones from the field has always produced poor quality sound. Our technicians can advise me accordingly, but I am always wary of relying on field microphones as the best way to communicate with spectators—whatever announcers say from the field should be quick and to-the-point. My reason for saying this is: the system is of such poor quality that it cannot attract and keep the attention of spectators. It does not encourage meaningful engagement with people at the games. As those of us at the games observed, the closing ceremony was in trouble from the beginning.

And, I will say, that our cultural offerings at the opening and closing ceremonies were not the best that we had to offer. It could have benefited from added creative energy. We simply cannot rely on bits and pieces of carnival arts. To spectators, it seemed like we “slapped’ together— and presented what we had.

Of course, our cultural folks represent us well— all the time; but, it comes across as lazy when we recycle the same acts for different occasions. Thank you, Brenda Baptiste, for holding it all together for us, and for being a formidable host. You clearly were born for this!

Finally, as we prepare for Trinidad and Tobago next year— can the authorities mobilize us to travel with the team?

I am dreaming of chartered flights with bands of supporters, a massive production of “Support Team Grenada” tee-shirts and caps. Let us make this dream come true. Congratulations, again, Team Grenada!