Friday, January 8, 2016


Public expression of opinions did not start with social media but its presence has had a lasting impact on the way Seychellois communicate.

Seychelles' first woman Presidential candidate Alexia Amesbury has gone on the record to say that one of the reasons the 2015 Presidential election panned out the way it did, was because to social media. Whether this statement is true or not, it is beyond doubt that part of the electoral campaign took place on social media. And reflecting the fact that the country is divided into two parts - the reds and the greens - there are two main political groups involving Seychellois on Facebook: Dan Lari Bazar, a pro Parti Lepep group which has about 28 000 members and the opposition group, Seychelles Daily, which has some 24 000 members.

Two other groups, Gossip Corner (about 21 000 members) and The Truth Nothing But The Truth (about 11 000 members) are less political but nonetheless get a good amount of traffic. Many people are members of all four groups. For Mrs Amesbury, the freedom of expression that people have found on social media, has helped liberate those who feared that expressing their opinions might get them in trouble. Issues that were formerly only spoken about in the privacy of one's home are now discussed openly and this, in turn, has encouraged others to be freer with their words.

A Seychelles Daily participant and rights activist, Wavel Woodcock, told TODAY that “it feels like people are more expressive nowadays whereas before there was a certain fear of intimidation or even losing one’s job but now people are no longer afraid. I think that people now know they have rights and that they are free to express themselves. When something is wrong or fishy, a large majority will now come out and say it – for example, if there's an unacceptable comment made in the State media, people will come forward and express themselves and make noise about it. I feel that social media has created a movement and has given a voice to the voiceless where State media failed them by not allowing them to have a say before".

An administrator of the group The Truth Nothing But The Truth agreed: “Facebook has allowed for more freedom and it has become one of the few places where people, especially the younger generations, can express themselves freely. Before you would see many fake profiles but more and more, you'll see people using their own profiles to do so whereas before they would not dare do so. Facebook has become one of the ways that people use to pass on information and a place where they feel safe.”

As a result, it’s not surprising that it’s on social media where Seychellois who have access to the internet, whether they live here or abroad, followed the counting of the ballot papers. Again in this instance, social media filled in where the State media failed. While there was a complete blackout on the proceedings by the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) during the first round while the country was awaiting the results with bated breath, Facebook filled in.

Likewise, faced with the Electoral Commission's refusal to make public provisional results, several agents of political parties chose to update the provisional results, district by district, on their pages. The pages also became the place where people who probably do not know each other, comforted and reassured one another as the suspense mounted. But all is certainly not rosy. In fact, most of the time, an inordinate amount of insults and character assassinations take place on social media in all impunity.

Interestingly, lawyer Bernard George is of the opinion that “Facebook has not changed anything when it comes to how people express themselves. It has only made their comments more widely available. Before the only option was to write a letter in the newspaper for example but with Facebook people’s views can now reach a wider audience”.

On the subject of cyber bullying, the lawyer says that “people can say what they want but cannot bully or defame someone. These are the only exceptions to freedom of expression. Therefore, if somebody does that, they will have to pay damages – that is straightforward. It is a case of tort which in Seychelles is called ‘delict’ which basically means that any action of somebody which causes damage to another person obliges the person who has caused the damage to repair it”.

But in life as on social media, this does not seem to be a recourse favoured by Seychellois. An active blogger of pro Parti Lepep group, Dan Lari Bazar, said for his part that he does not believe social media has made much of a difference in terms of freedom of expression. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said that issues are not tackled on social media. "What I see instead is people tagging along and not necessarily expressing their views. Nothing constructive is achieved on Facebook. Instead, people are repeating what everyone else is saying without asking questions or testing the credibility of the source. For example, pre-election, you’d see people popping up to say that they were offered such and such from whomever, without realising that somebody could be fishing for information from you. Instead the reaction was also that of a herd mentality. If someone came from the opposition and said something, people would automatically bash them and try to destroy their credibility, say things about their family and this is wrong – regardless of who does it".

Whatever one's opinion on the matter, the fact is that there is less scope for opacity with social media. The discovery of the Bel Ombre skull is a good example of this: it was discovered by workers who took a photo of the skull and posted it on social media. Discussions started almost immediately, suppositions as to the identity of the skull were put forward, family members of the presumed person were contacted, making it eventually impossible for the police to refuse to open an enquiry, even if the results are yet to be disclose.

SOURCE:Today in Seychelles