The public relations officer (PRO) of the Guild of Students at the University of the West Indies (UWI) has admitted to being paid to write for the bloggers project orchestrated by a group claiming to work for the People's Partnership.
Guild PRO Mervin Agiste, a national of St Lucia, made the disclosure to the Campus Chronicle after an investigation revealed his participation in the project.
He is the first student to be identified as a paid blogger who wrote pro-government comments on newspaper websites and online chat forums.
The organisation which runs the propaganda operation, "tntgoodblogs," also pays students to author comments or blogs that attack the Opposition.
As part of its investigation, the Campus Chronicle obtained an e-mail sent from "tntgoodblogs" to student bloggers on August 6 instructing them to fill out a chart with their contact information. The chart lists their personal e-mail addresses as well as the "fake" e-mail addresses and screen names or aliases they would use to blog.
The chart displays three Hotmail and Yahoo accounts which comprise Agiste's first and last names.
A search on Facebook revealed that one of the e-mail accounts is also associated with his personal Facebook profile.
The Campus Chronicle tracked down at least six e-mail addresses that Agiste used to submit reader comments on the Trinidad Express website, and the Yahoo chat groups "Caribbean Talk" and "theunitedvoice."
One of his screen names, "youngsense86," is displayed as the author of at least 72 comments on the Trinidad Express website.
Other comments were discovered in the Yahoo chat forums under the screen name "mervin.agiste."
In a telephone interview with the Campus Chronicle, Agiste admitted to receiving a payment of $300 after blogging for a week in July. He said he continued to blog for approximately three more weeks, during which time he received a laptop from the young lady who worked for "tntgoodblogs" and who only identified herself as Marsha.
Agiste recalled initially being promised a BlackBerry cellphone, but said "tntgoodblogs" later rescinded the offer since the organisation feared that blogs posted online from the cellphone could be traced.
Asked why he decided to participate in the bloggers project, the guild PRO said, "It was something that I started doing with the hope that it would ease my financial circumstances, because I am paying for my school fees on my own. However, when I realised the implications of it, I did remove myself from the equation. Me as a blogger did not affect or has not affected my role on the Guild."
On the topic of political affiliation, article 18(22) of the constitution of the UWI Guild of Students only prohibits members of the Guild Council – of which the PRO is a member – from being an executive member of a political party or holding office in a political party.
The final-year UWI student said he decided to stop blogging and to forgo additional payments owed to him because he objected to certain instructions from "tntgoodblogs."
"When I began, I was told that, you know, it's patriotic to support (this initiative)…It was after the fact that, when I had started, that instructions would come in to support particular stances.
"Well, my objection was to be told how to attack somebody (supporters of the Opposition) in terms of their blogging…the fact that we were instructed as to the type of blogs, I had issues with that and I did raise objections to those issues.
"When I realised everything that was going on and how difficult (it was) to continue, I did say, you know, well, I want out of it."
The guild PRO said he was not privy to any information regarding the person or persons who managed the "tntgoodblogs" propaganda campaign.
He also said he informed Marsha of his desire to return the laptop to "tntgoodblogs." However, he said he has been unable to do so, as Marsha has not returned any of his calls in the two weeks since the Campus Chronicle exclusively reported on the blogging operation.
Agiste said that to his knowledge, the operation was pushed underground because of the public scrutiny generated by this newspaper's investigative story.
The Campus Chronicle understands that Marsha is a student at the UWI St Augustine campus.
She has been cited by students who applied to the blogging project as the person who supervises student bloggers working for "tntgoodblogs".