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'Political manure' - Social media behaviour forces PNP rules of engagement review Online behaviour forces PNP rules of engagement review

Published:Friday | August 9, 2019 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer

Well into the throes of its leadership election and under the glare of media, the behaviour of People’s National Party (PNP) supporters has forced the party to revise the existing rules of engagement that govern internal polls.

Supporters of the One PNP team, led by incumbent Dr Peter Phillips, and Rise United challenger Peter Bunting had been trading political ‘manure’ on social media long before the two were officially nominated on Friday, July 26.

The tempo of attacks has intensified since the launch, and Comrades have “been putting on the most disgraceful behaviour that I have ever seen online”, said one senior PNP supporter last week.

But PNP Chairman Fitz Jackson said the social media provision was not influenced by the looming elections.

“It is something that the party has been looking at and can only serve as a guide. We have an existing code, and we have reviewed it from time to time,” Jackson told The Gleaner.

“I am agreeing that it is very difficult to contain. However, when derogatory comments are made by supporters from either camp, and later withdrawn, the damage is already done. That is what we are trying to avoid as best as we can,” Jackson said.

The current code is a revised version of that used in 2008 during the Phillips and Portia Simpson Miller contest and was further revised ahead of the 2018 vice-presidential elections.

But with thousands of Comrades now owning smartphones and having access to social media, derogatory comments have characterised much of the discourse. The behaviour has reportedly ripped the party along a divisive line between Rise United and One PNP officials and supporters.

An elder statesmen said that the party is divided between those who supported Phillips in 2008 and those who supported Simpson Miller back then.

“Again, except for a few, everybody who supported Portia is supporting Bunting,” said the Comrade, who wished not to be identified, adding that “some so-called educated persons are among those spewing political manure”.



Social media infighting providing fodder for JLP – councillor


One PNP campaigner Councillor Venesha Phillips says that the discourse in the current People’s National Party (PNP) presidential election has reached gutter levels.

“Manure is a good thing because manure can benefit some plants. But what is happening is bordering on gutter. It’s downright vulgar. And it cannot continue like that. As leaders, we have to set the tone,” she told The Gleaner.

Women, she posited, were likely to react in an emotive way, but she did not believe that it was uncontrollable. One PNP, she said, recognised some of the social media players and their connections.

“Social media has to be a contained space, although it is an open space, and that may seem contradictory. Most of the persons who are blogging are friends and associates of persons in party circles, and we know some of them. In the main, we can appeal to our support base to manage their comments in the space,” she argued.

In decrying the derogatory comments, she said it was providing political fodder for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) campaign in the general election.

Rise United campaign manager Dr Dayton Campbell said the two candidates have signed the campaign rules but that monitoring remained difficult, if not elusive.

“We haven’t had another meeting with the election monitoring committee, but when the issue was raised at the first meeting, it was an attempt to control persons and comments in that space,” Campbell told The Gleaner.

“We tried to explain that it was difficult as some of the profiles are fake and many were not even in Jamaica. Generally, it is difficult to monitor social media. We can be held accountable for what is said on the platform, but even that has been a very difficult task,” he said.