01.08.2015

Abuse of social media

Those who are worried on how the alternative media is being misused would look positively that the government is concerned enough to have paid attention to all aspects of the law, control and education, pertaining to the abuse of social media.

This is of utmost importance to stop the current practice of irresponsible parties disseminating negative matters through the social media.

The relevant authorities have also affirmed that they will be cooperation between the police and other related quarters on issues pertaining to evidence.

In the meantime, the Home Ministry, together with the police, will work together with the MCMC and Malaysian Cyber Security to check the channelling of contents which violate social media laws.

The Ministry’s concern would be to ensure information channelled by individuals or cyber groups through the various social media such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApps and blogs was accurate, as there have been complaints on the contents of social websites and blogs, including those which touched on racial sensitivity and slanderous remarks.

These actions are necessary following complains by various groups urging the Government to take stern action against those who put up “undesired elements” in cyber space which jeopardised racial harmony between the people of various ethnic groups in the country. These groups have also called on the authorities to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to prevent slander and sedition.

The recent outbreak of violence at the Low Yat plaza was a good example of how misinformation was spread through the social media to incite mob violence.

There is a school of thought amongst political analysts that the alternative media popularity has translated to actual votes for political parties during GE13.

The election results have shown once and for all that social media is a powerful and effective platform in canvassing for votes.

Online news portals are just not cheap, easy and convenient; most importantly, it has shown that online popularity that is cultivated by social media does translate to actual votes on polling day.

To a social media expert with a local university, this is never more apparent than when it comes to young voters, whom he regards as “digital natives” — people who are born into a world where the Internet already exists and consume information differently from the older generation.

There are three traits among digital natives relevant in this election: First, they work best when they’re networked with their peers — they share everything. Second, they have a very short attention span; third, they are much more open to differences and are multicultured and globalised.”

This makes social media a very effective tool, if not the most effective, in trying to get their attention and sending a political message or propaganda across.

The academic also observed that in 2008, the ruling coalition didn’t participate in social media, so the opposition had the platform all to them. GE13 was a different ball game with both playing the social media game.

Despite the considerable resources and efforts poured by Barisan Nasional to catch up online right after the March 8, 2008 political tsunami, Pakatan is still perceived to have gained the upper hand in the social media war online.

This was what enabled the opposition to make significant inroads at the polls in many urban seats, as they have managed to gain the “empathy” of the online populace, or netizens as they are often called now.

Whether it was a strategic manoeuvre or an inadvertent one, the opposition has somehow managed to portray themselves as the underdog.

This effect is never more clearly felt than among young voters under 25 years old, who make up about a quarter of the 13-plus million registered voters that time around.

Touching on site censorship, most online experts consider it as effective as trying to prevent illegal digital downloads – young digital natives are clever enough to find ways to bypass any attempt to block a site.

An analysis of the use of the social media in the last election confirmed that the opposition has managed to create content that could be easily related to by their target audience — issues that were relevant and close to the heart of many educated, middle-class, urban Malaysians.

Because of the Internet and the influence of social media, the voting pattern between rural and urban voters was now increasingly different, as evidenced in the recent election.

There’s a huge gap between rural and urban voters, a distinction that has been moulded by the channel or avenues of information that they have access to.

In rural areas, the populace is still largely dependent on traditional media, with very little to non-existent Wifi coverage. So it’s very difficult to access the Internet, unlike in the urban areas.

With Wifi available in almost every restaurant and cafe, together with the proliferation of 4G, broadband and smart devices, new media influence on urban voters can be strongly felt even in a short kopitiam chat.

People in the urban areas see their issues of concern and the ideas they embrace clearly show an influence of new media in their perception. This shows that the information transferred through new media has been easily accepted and shaped their perception.

Following the above analysis, it is evident what will likely happen in the next general election.

One view is that there will be more leaders actively engaging with people directly, online, while cyber troopers will also increase.

The average Malaysian will also likely be more connected, have better access to more information and will be savvier and mature in filtering what is fact and what is misinformation.

Those who spread falsehoods will find that their deception cannot be sustained in the online media because people can check whether it is true or not.

Although the popular issues will remain towards more universal issues such as the economy, good governance and security, elements of race-based politics is expected to be still dominant in the next five years.

Concerned that many who browse the web for news and updates tend to totally believe what is written and spread on the social media, this scribe would offer the prudent advice that readers must always check the veracity of what they read.