The Roles of the Social Media in Today’s Politics

The prospective candidates who speak the language of the Social Media in today’s politics will have the upper hand in the election.

A glance of the figures in question would draw our imagination of the potential vote bank that are in store for the present administrators in the coming GE 13. This is the greatest expectation of our premier of course, but others sense the logic that Twitter and Facebook followers do not necessarily mean a solid political support for Najib and his coalition front members as it could go either way, vote-wise. 


How true is the adage which says “No Man Is An Island” as we move forward in the Globalisation Era of the 21st Century? Generally, the saying holds water with a number of testimonies. Just to mention a few, the utilisation of the social media widescale as a result of advanced Internet Technology nowadays, the world communities in certain parts of the earth would find that they are no longer isolated especially those with links via the internet apart from other communication accessories.

They get closer to one another by the day irrespective of their creed, race, social beliefs, religion, political affiliations, depending on the status quo and geographical locations of a particular country.

In essence, the definition of “Social Media” includes Newspapers, Magazines, Television and Radio. Unlike these traditional media, those utilised via the internet medium is not limited by the number of pages and time; people can take part by commenting on, discussing or directly adding to the contents, thereby making it “social”. On the broader perspective, social media could even include emails and discussion forums.

The fact is social media is nothing new. It has been in existence since the beginning of the Web. Mr Marcus Van Geyzel, a corporate and commercial lawyer based in Kuala Lumpur described in his recent article entitled “Tweeting About a Revolution” in The Edge Financial Weekly says “Geocities is often cited as one of the first major media networks. It created a network of users who could, with basic computer know-how, put content on the internet and communicate
about it. These websites evolved into blogs, which have been around for so long now that they seem like dinosaurs, tech-wise. The evolution carried onto photos, music and video – giving birth to huge communities like MySpace, YouTube and Flickr.

The much-heralded emergence of Twitter is backed by reliable figures. Research shows that the service currently has more than 30 million users, which is astounding when compared to an estimated 2 million users in early 2008“.

In Malaysia, the popularity of social media has grown by leaps and bounds over the years in tandem with the global trend. The new internet-savvy generation switch their tastes to services such as Friendster and Facebook, which are merely used as personal communication with photos and backround updates of the individuals.

As an example, PM Datuk Najib Tun Razak’s social website for Twitter and Facebook has reached an impressive 500,000 and One Million mark of young followers respectively from every corner of the country lately.

This amazing statistic would mean a lot for a national leader who maintains such website, thus enabling the common people especially the young to have access and keeping in touch with someone important in the government and vice versa. Unlike during the reign of Najib’s predecessors, social media was still in its infancy then. It could be possible that neither the two former premiers Tun Dr Mahathir nor Tun Ahmad Badawi signed up for similar social websites (Facebook & Twitter).

A glance of the figures in question would draw our imagination of the potential vote bank that are in store for the present administrators in the coming GE 13. This is the greatest expectation of our premier of course, but others sense the logic that Twitter and Facebook followers do not necessarily mean a solid political support for Najib and his coalition front members as it could go either way, vote-wise.

It is truly unpredicable but a random guess will do to give us the clues. By virtue of the overwhelming responses which the premier is getting via his social website from the younger generation, it may be interpreted that they are an indication of Najib’s popularity and administration, which however needs to be confirmed via fresh mandate from the people in the 13th GE.

The latest figures of young Malaysian citizens who have yet to registar as voters throughout the country is approximately 3.3 million including 311,884 in Sabah. Recently, the Election Commission has confirmed that 12,595, 268 individuals are eligible to vote in the 13th GE nationwide.

We cannot rule out the possibility that the young generations who signed up in Najib’s social website are among those who have yet to registar as voters or could they also be a part of the followers of several Opposition leaders’ Facebook and Twitters?

The electrol roll contained 259,590 of voters’ applications constituting 188, 654 of new registrations while the balance 70,936 had registered for change of polling address during the fourth quarter to Dec 31st, 2011).

The Gagasan Dayak Iban Bersatu Malaysia (GAIU) President Sai Malaka told Bernama recently that “Many Sarawakians in Johor are reluctant to register as voters” due to logistical problems of doing so. Sai, however, dismissed claims by some that it was of no use to become voters in the Peninsular as “local leaders or political parties would not want to care about them as they are not Johorians .

Former PM Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was prompted to instruct component parties’ members, including UMNO representives, to be well equipped with the necessary knowledge as preparation for the Internet war which was one of the combining factors instrumental in spearheading the Opposition Blocks Pakatan Rakyat to reduce BN’s two third majority in the Parliament in the last general election.

MCA President Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek even admitted that “the MCA was weak in publicity strategy, especially in using the new media to disseminate information, as the party was too dependent on the mainstream media and the lack of blogging and twitting among party members had made the opposition better equipped during publicity war” (D.E 30th July 2010).

The Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim had passed the message across the board over to a selected groups of Malaysian Bloggers and social media trendsetters at the recent gathering at Putra World Trade Centre, KL that “Social Media A Game Changer in GE 13 , and urged the social media “influencers” in the room to use their clout to expose obvious opposition lies and reminded the savvy assembly of their responsibilities to spread the truth. As in the words of PM Najib “The BN government will not make any promise which cannot be delivered”, which is a perfectly transparent coined message.

The fact is politicans in developed countries’ strategic channel of sourcing for support from voters especially during the crux of the campaigining period.

The New York Times in its March 8, 2012 edition, reported that “Obama Mines for Voters With High Tech Tool“ is a case in point. The U.S President is seeking re-election for the second term. His secret engine comprises scores of political strategies, data analysts, corporated marketers and Web producers, who are sifting through information gleaned from Facebook, voters’ logs and a scattered coalition of supporters who swept Obama into the White House four years ago.

Paradoxically, the downside of social media has become widespread and generally admired by a great number of people when blogs came to the forefront. Bloggers have created the concept of uncensored, alternative and reliable source of information, which readers could glue their eyes to attentively on the computers screens for hours in search of more news and events updates particularly on local politics, etc.

This tendency has thus aroused more interests from massive audiences for internet news sources such as those available in our country e.g. Malaysia Today, Malaysiakini, Jeff Ooi’s blog apart from the current online news portal Malaysian Insider and The Nut Graph.

Sabahkini, which is a Sabah-based online news portal, is no exception and it fully suscribes to the terms and conditions and supporting The MSC – Malaysia Bill of Guarantee (Blog No : 7) which spells out that it does not edit the internet; in other words any comments or articles sent by its readers will not be edited for publication.

On the broader picture, the ardent followers of Facebook and Twitter are not spared from the whisk of stiff warning and restriction enforced by their local authorities. In Malaysia, lately, the Internal Security and Public Order Director Datuk Salleh Mat Rasid finger pointed out that “Facebook, Twitter foster national security threats”.

He said “The Internet posed a challenged to the Police as it allowed people to know what was going on in and outside the country. This would encourage those who have been “influenced by liberal thinking” to replicate locally what was happening in other countries. In a borderless world, human thinking will change greatly particularly towards the liberal. It is ifficult to restrict those who have been influenced by liberal thinking as Facebook and Twitter allowed them to communicate with each other easily”. (Utusan Malaysia 23rd March 2012)

It is true that there are limits of freedoms as enshrined in our consitution and are not absolute. There are rules and regulations that every citizen of this country needs to abide. Several countries including Tajikistan and Egypt in the Middle East had recently blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and news sites following the bloody political unrest in their countries.

The Saudi Journalist Hamza Kashgari, who was detained by the Malaysian Police last month and deported back home at the request of the Saudi Government, over a blasphemous Twitter post on Prophet Muhammed is another example whereby a person was arrested for deliberately posting blogs with religious sentitivity via the social media in a country where such an offence is punishable by execution.

According to The Dubai School of Government’s social media report, Saudi Arabia has the third highest number of Twitter users in the Arab Region. However, the percentage of users is only 0.5 % out of the nation’s population of 27 million.

Recently, The Jerusalem Post Reported that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh called on Muslim to avoid Twitter ”as it invited people to throw charges between them and to lie in a manner that bring fame to some“.

The California-based Twitter had confirmed its plan to censor Tweets in several countries three months ago, sparking debate over freedom of speech on the internet. Thailand is the first country to publicly approve Twitter’s decision. In Indonesia, people tweeting in violation of the local law by posting pornography, gambling, threats, fraud and blasphemy could be put behind the bars for 12 years.

Malaysians are still fortunate to have a fair Government that does not enforce a total ban on the usage of the Internet, but propose to monitor or even block the accounts of Facebook and Twitters users in the event of abuse subject to the existing penalty code, Sedition Act 1948, Information Act 1950 and Communication and Multimedia Act 1998.

The Malaysian Multimedia and Communication Commission had received 716 of complaints from the public about various types of abusive contents posted on to their Facebook and Twitter sites last year.

In Sabah, the Internet penetration rate has reached 32.9 per cent while for the whole country it is 62.9 percent. During the closing of the State Level Social Media convention at UMS recently, CM Datuk Seri Musa Aman was quoted as saying “In the kind of advance society that people are living in today, technology has evolved and developed tremendously. These advances have been misused by irresponsible parties in exploiting certain issues for their personal benefits, which include the spread of false information as well as issues which touch on the sensitivities of the people”. Musa expects the participants could create a new dimension in Social Media that could be used for national development thereby improving
the prosperity of the people as a whole. (D E March 18 , 2012)

Politically, let us see the extent of the role our Social Media will play to the fullest in getting the healthy messages over to our people, who will then interprete and decide on the fate and choice of leaders whom they think fit to lead this country in the coming 13th GE.

The prospective candidates who speak the language of the Social Media in today’s politics will have the upper hand in the election.

BN is optimistic of a landslide victory and capable of capturing States currently ruled by the Opposition in the Peninsular, to steer the Nation forward for another term, judging from its outstanding track record in the government, despite former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin’s prediction of a bleak outlook for BN in the coming 13 GE with an easy victory in only threes States namely Johor, Malacca and Pahang.

Once again let us wait and see whether Daim’s prediction could turn into the whole truth or nothing but mere speculation!