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St. Lucia: The Global Voices Summit from a Caribbean Perspective

The recently concluded Global Voices Summit in Nairobi, Kenya featured many discussions which are particularly relevant to the Caribbean. As a first-time attendee of a Global Voices Summit, I've put together a quick rundown of topics that are relevant for citizen journalists and bloggers from my region. (More in-depth summaries are available by clicking on the titles.)

Inside/Outside: Diaspora Influence Online
In his recent book, “Tales from Facebook”, about Trinidadian social media usage, anthropologist Daniel Miller, examining an online discussion about “doubles” wrote:

This is the portrait that includes the greatest degree of diaspora presence, quite likely precisely because its content is the most parochial and specific to Trinidad. It is when people are living in effective exile somewhere in Toronto or Miami that they seem most moved to engage in a heated debate about which particular street corner in Trinidad is the best place to buy a Doubles.

Within this context of a shared experience of Caribbean food, the growth of social media has helped to tie the diaspora closer to center. However, as the panel on diaspora influence online showed, this connection between the diaspora and the homeland can be fraught with complications thanks to political polarization, a great divergence in living standards and information bubbles that both sides of the divide can find themselves in. According to Elaine Diaz, Global Voices contributor for the Latin America region:

It is very difficult for Cubans living on the island to accept as representative voice someone living in Diaspora. Majority thinks that we have to live, sleep, wake up in Cuba to experience its reality.

Keeping Endangered Languages Alive Online / Rising Voices: Wiring Offgrid Villages & Preserving Language Online
Given the history and location of the Caribbean, there are several languages within the region which are in danger of extinction, or in the case of some languages like Antillean Creole, in danger of extinction from some territories. The Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus has recorded some of these languages for posterity and posted them to YouTube: French Creole in Trinidad; Lokono (Arawak) in Guyana;Kromanti (Maroon community in Jamaica); Berbice Dutch Creole (Guyana); and Garifuna (Belize). Other languages in the region include Saramaccan , spoken by the Saramaka (‘Bush Negroes') in Suriname.

The Rising Voices panel discussion featured two bloggers working to preserve endangered languages – Boukary Konaté (Mali) is trying to preserve his native language, Bambara, and Victoria Tinta (Bolivia) is attempting to do the same with Aymara.

At the “Keeping Endangered Languages Alive Online” panel it was annouced that Google had launched the EndangeredLanguages.com initiative with the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity. This effort, however, is fraught with some difficulties:

The first challenge we face is counting endangered languages. The Google initiative lists over 3,000 languages, some of which may be underrepresented rather than endangered. Only 285 languages have a Wikipedia edition at all (much less a robust edition). The gap between Google's 3,054 languages and the 285 Wikipedia editions is the challenge of getting endangered languages online.

The Global Voices Caribbean Team in Nairobi, Kenya.

Are They Watching Me? Internet Surveillance
The revelations months ago that the Trinidad & Tobago government had been illegally spying on citizens for nearly decade make this a relevant issue in the Caribbean . (Fortunately, this is not quite as urgent an issue for the Caribbean as it is for citizen journalists/activists in other regions – at least not yet.)

An ongoing discussion at the panel was the necessity to find a balance between security and privacy. It was acknowledged that in many countries, the wider public may approve of intrusive surveillance by the government if it was deemed necessary to combat crime.

The Global Rise of Citizen Media
This panel spoke about the ways that citizen journalists have usurped the role of the mainstream media, particularly when it came to covering events in real time, such as natural disasters. Mong Palatino, a blogger and politician from the Philippines shared an anecdote which had many parallels to the Caribbean experience:

People in Southeast Asia also use social media to respond to disasters. In a region where there is always a disaster, netizens use social media tools to talk about these disasters. Later on, these issues become political, as in the case of #thaiflood. Thai citizens initially used this hashtag to report information and flood stories. Over time, the hashtag shifted to complaints about how the government and mainstream media handled the flood response.

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