Don’t Take Cyberspace for Granted!

Whilst IT has broken down geographical and cultural barriers, it has also enabled ordinary citizens like you and me to keep an eye on what is happening locally and internationally. Advances in telecommunications such as text messaging, social networking and the Internet have allowed many to share ideas, hopes and even to unite many in their political aspirations. The 2008 GE bears testimony to the power of cyberspace but alas, the times, they are a-changing and as the next GE looms round the corner, we cannot take cyberspace for granted.

In the last decade, countries such as Philippines (2001), Ukraine (2004) and Lebanon (2005) organized demonstrations via text messages/emails/twitter in their respective countries. Note that it was only in democracies that communications objectives achieved their objectives. Countries such as Columbia, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Iran that used cell phones, Facebook and Twitter for their revolutions/protests etc. merely managed to embarrass the government but failed to remove it from power.

In other words, Opposition parties had better start cracking with regards to their strategies and election machinery and not think that cyberspace and netizens can still weave their wands for the same 2008 tsunami. Whilst they may have reaped some advantages in the last GE, one thing for sure is that cyberspace is certainly a very complicated society. One can never replace human wisdom by the digital world/space.

Since 2008, while net usage may have increased due to greater broadband penetration, we have to bear in mind that this may have changed over time. Netizens may be using cyberspace differently and for their own ambitions/appetites such as on pop culture, social networking, marketing and other reasons than that of advancing their own political philosophy which may even be absent/deficient!

The period before and after the 2008 GE saw many research studies being carried out on the impact of IT on the democratic system. In fact, I had a research proposal on the same topic but never saw it through as my father passed away just before the deadline. What I realize of late is that many may have forgotten that modern communication is a neutral place. Whilst we may have the freedom to use these avenues for our own devices, this freedom may not be promoting other forms of freedoms. It is the person who gives meaning to the message so how a message is formulated may not achieve the desired effect. Each of us interpret messages according to our frame of experience, past experiences, expectations and many other factors. Thus, for the next couple of months, the Opposition had better work hard to convey the right messages to increase voter confidence in their respective parties!

Theoretically speaking, use of the net may expose netizens to the harsh realities of the world they live in such as the increasing cases of corruption, leakages, injustice etc. and at the same time, provide avenues for them to request for change.

But is there any guarantee that all or many will react to the advantage of the Opposition after reading exposes? Granted that some may vote for change to put to an end authoritarianism or corruption but how can we guarantee that communication of messages via the net can elicit the reaction that is desired?

Exposes may create negative reactions such as anger, frustration, rationalization, hope and so on. While the messages are sent, there is the certainty that it will reach a particular target audience but the numbers can never be definite, neither can the reactions. The Net is a very mysterious place. While it may make it easier for those of us with similar political inclinations to hob nob, and to engage with others with similar beliefs, there is no guarantee that the content can persuade them to change their minds to voting a particular way for the collective good of the nation.

That is why the same government has been voted back over and over again for the past few decades even though many are aware why this should not be the case. We read outrage comments here and there about this. Such trends point at a very alarming fact.

There has to be a change in the way we reach out to the citizens of the country to elicit change. To use known and old methods is a sure way of sabotaging the journey to Putrajaya which at the moment, sounds like a pipe dream to me.

Many do not realize that the status quo is working very hard to recapture lost ground. They have at their disposal experts and consultants to boost their public image, prepare persuasive speeches, launch public relations blitz or even to manipulate the topic of discussion for the nation. They started their election campaign the minute the 2008 GE was over. The strategies, plans, blueprints were rolled into action after serious thought, discussion and debate. What about the Opposition? Complacency, disunity and to a certain extent, foolishness in the way some messages/policies were communicated. I have said it many times and am saying again – Pakatan Rakyat must really get together to plan. Enough small talk, pipe dreams and failed visions. Time to shape up and really deliver before the next GE!

The rakyat will not just accept lock, stock and barrel messages about how we need to vote for change or how Pakatan wants this or that, especially if Pakatan Rakyat cannot pakat amongst themselves.

The Opposition must realize that the internet may have changed the world – but the truth is – that was in the past. Currently, it is the world that is changing the internet. Net usage even in Malaysia, has been changing. A look at various online portals can show you that many sites are trying to present their messages differently via different templates, writing styles, focus etc. but the fact remains that responses to these have been slowly but gradually dwindling. Not a good sign at all.