KUALA LUMPUR – Nov 3, 2015: The lack of tactical and robust cyber warfare strategies had been identified as the main reason why Barisan Nasional is on the losing ends against the opposition parties in cyberspace.
Cyber warfare experts told The Mole that in order for BN to reverse that trend, it must also step-up its game in influencing public opinions by fixing their leadership and internal issues.
They insisted that BN must work on fresh narratives for their strategies if they are to win the people’s hearts again.
Primarily, BN should understand that cyber warfare involves more than just cyber troopers as for now, the opposition are thriving in resonating their beliefs and propaganda.
Political analyst Shahnon Mohamed Salleh of the Centre of Media and Information Warfare Studies, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) reviews local cyber warfare as being rather phenomenal particularly after the 2013 general election (GE13).
“It is phenomenal in the sense that it is largely a reflection of our deeply divisive and polarised nation, particularly after the hotly contested GE13. Due to the fact that Malaysia is one of the leading nations in Asia in terms of broadband penetration and social media usage, we are very active online; and so do our so-called cyber troopers or keyboard warriors.”
Shahnon added that generally, it is inevitable to witness that the present mood and sentiment in the cyberspace is noticeably anti-establishment.
“There are many active pro-BN groups and individuals defending the party and issues on a routine and occasional basis on Twitter and Facebook. Nevertheless, their numbers could not match the negative public sentiment presently.
“In addition, Umno is still grappling with internal issues. Their online supporters seem to be very much divided especially between the pro-Najib and the anti-Najib faction,” he said in reference to the ongoing dispute over the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak among especially BN supporters.
BN cyber troopers are observed to be lacking the influencing power as they are sometimes apologetic, defensive and failed to articulate their thoughts well on many important issues.
“Poor coordination is another issue for pro-BN cyber troopers. They failed to present their credibility, emotions, and consistency values to the public. Yet, we cannot have a good propaganda without sound public policies.
“For instance, the public are relaying negative responses to petrol prices, toll rates, public transportation, and also Goods and Services Tax (GST),” Shahnon said, adding that ultimately, BN has to fix the leadership and internal issues within the party.
Echoing the same opinion, Associate Professor Dr. Anitawati Mohd Lokman from the Faculty of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, UiTM highlights the fact that BN supporters are dawdling in initiating debates. They rather choose to lambast the opposition parties’ online supporters with defensive responses should provocative debate resurfaced.
“The government supporters have less skill to spin issues for good purposes. They only play the role of followers and defend themselves in most cases.”
Another weak point of BN’s cyber warfare manoeuvre is that they do not amplify the use of mainstream social influencer – the online news portals. Shahnon iterated that to some extent, the opposition parties are also fortunate that they can always leverage on sympathetic online portals like Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider or Malay Mail Online, to present their narratives or do the necessary damage control.
On the other hand, the opposition parties are reportedly thriving in waging cyber warfare against the ruling government. Shahnon reverberated that Pakatan supporters are more unified in terms of their key messages. An exemplary strategy can be seen from the DAP supporters.
Strategically, it is apparent that BN is losing out even when there are issues and problems within the opposition parties, namely the Pas and Pas-Amanah conflict. From the reviews, BN failed to really capitalise on Pakatan’s weaknesses as they too are in the same quandary.
The experts also agreed that pro-DAP supporters appear to be more ruthless and upfront in their cyber propaganda. Unlike BN, the opposition parties’ cyber troopers seem to be more centralised and more coordinated. They utilise any possible opportunities to spin any issue to imply negative perception, with the intention to bring down the ruling government.
Nevertheless, opposition parties’ strategy would not be fruitful should they continue to play the racial card. According to Anitawati, an apparent weakness of their strategy was them being less sensitive to the sentiments of the Malays.
“Their strategy is that they tried to impose that their ideas belong to the majority, but in fact, many people don’t think the way they do,” she added.
In order to outdo the opposition’s strategy, the government is suggested to adopt a new fresh narrative for cyber warfare. The experts advised that BN must put forward the values of credibility, emotions, and consistency in their propaganda.
Having said so, they said BN must have a better coordination of cyber warfare communication, while engaging with credible social influencers.
The government was also advised that it must work together with mainstream news provider in presenting a different, yet positive narrative.
The experts also did not dismiss the suggestion that the opposition parties may have been manipulating the prominence of news listed on online search engines.
They suggested for the government to adopt the same strategy.
“The government is trailing poorly among the English news portals. They need to work hand-in-hand with the media, aside of ensuring that BN representatives are confident and articulate in speaking for the government,” said Shahnon.