#Haiti and Social Media

The comical condom dress photo posted today on Haitian First Lady Sophia Martelly's facebook page that inspired this post. Note that Sophia's photo album from the Launch of the National Family Planning Campaign was titled and captioned in French.

I've had a relationship with Haiti for over four years, lamentably with most of it occurring remotely. Despite the many downfalls of social media, I can't deny that it has certainly helped me stay up to date with Haiti, whether it be through connecting to Haitian friends and colleagues on Facebook or following Haitian NGOs, journalists, and even the US Embassy in Haiti on twitter. Social media has certainly had a huge role in promoting the fundraising events my board plans for NPH USA.

Over the last four years, even my limited exposure has made it very obvious that Haiti's relationship with social media is growing as well. Today, searching #Haiti on twitter brings up 21 tweets in the last 20 minutes. Haiti's president, first lady, and prime minister have active Facebook accounts. But certain things strike an uncomfortable cord when we consider which Haitians are engaging in social media, especially if we think of social media in its originally intended role as a vehicle for public exchange and discussion.

A twitter search for #Ayiti, the country's name spelled in Haitian Creole (kreyol), only yields 1 result in the last hour. Creole is the language of the public and is the sole language for a vast majority of Haitians. In Haiti, school is taught in French (if you can afford to attend), and while Creole is recognized as an official language in Haiti, its use isn't seriously implemented by the government.

In fact, Michel Martelly's current cover photo on his presidential Facebook account is a quote written in French. Only 15% of his 92 cover photos (from quotes to pictures with foreign politicians or the pope) are written in Creole (and even then typically feature peasant women and children alongside the Creole words), and most of the page's posts are in French. In contrast, Haitians who comment on the photos and articles typically write in creole. Even English comments by Haitian people appeared as often as French words on a brief scan of Martelly's page.

With only about 10% of Haiti's educated and wealthier citizens fluent in French, the use of French by the government and the dominance of French and even English in social media posts centered on Haiti further highlights the lack of participation in social media by the Haitian public majority.

A quote by Dr. Yves Dejean for Creole Trans:

"This comes as no surprise, since as a former slave colony; Haiti inherited a traditional school system made for French-speaking children. Remember that for centuries in Europe formal education was conducted in Latin and was a privilege reserved to a tiny "elite". People educated in Latin discovered the necessity to spread formal education to all children by using French, English, German, etc... as a medium of instruction. In Haiti too, only a restricted number (unfortunately) of educators, teachers, scholars educated in French have the will and the lucidity to advocate the use of Creole, the sole language of more than 95% of Haitians, as the normal medium of instruction for a formal education adapted to and useful for three million school-age children."