April 3, 2018
By Dave Avran
IN the 2008 US presidential election, social media was widely used. Obama was the first presidential candidate who utilised new media to not only reach voters but also to target new ones.
The effective use of social media also played a major role in Indonesia’s 2012 presidential elections and the 2016 Philippines presidential elections which saw Jokowi Widodo and Rodrigo Duterte win handsomely.
We saw the importance of a well thought-out social media strategy when Jakarta mayor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s (Ahok) use of social media via an emotionally charged video meant to sway voters backfired dramatically and he crashed and burned.
Likewise those rooting for Hillary against Trump in the 2016 US presidential elections ended up being very disappointed as they did not monitor sentiments on social media.
Back home in our beloved Tanahair, we will definitely see an impact from Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp as these channels have the widest reach.
The Internet World Statistics 2017 report estimates that out of Malaysia’s 33 million people. 22 million are daily Facebook users.
So both fake and legit “information” from mainstream news, portals, blogs, videos, graphics and images can be swiftly disseminated via these channels and within seconds there will be responses from netizens.
In the 2013 elections the opposition had done well in using social media to further their cause with the advantage of being early adopters but now Umno and Barisan Nasional have not only caught up but are actually doing better on social media with a stronger online presence.
It looks most likely that the opposition will mobilise its social media resources closer to the elections as they do not have the financial resources to maintain a sustained campaign.
Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli has been particularly active with his Invoke data analytics firm, collecting millions of ringgit with each public appeal.
Comparatively the social media content coming out of the opposition camp is not as fiery as it used to be, rehashing the same 1MDB, Jho Low, FELDA, GST, Toll and petrol price topics and not gaining as much traction compared to what is being put out by the Government.
Not surprisingly both BN and Pakatan Harapan are accusing each other of using hired trolls, fake social media accounts and other insidious means of manipulating social media trends.
The DAP maintains a “Red Bean Army” of cyber troopers to start fires online and Khairy Jamaluddin has admitted commissioning similar troops to “protect” BN.
Despite the current wildfire spread of fake news on online platforms, social media remains the main choice for political leaders to upload their political activities.
Politicians should be prepared to face the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), with the use of Big Data Analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) in almost all aspects of everyday life.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak highlighted the state of our preparedness of 4IR, leading to the formulation of the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) vision, an initiative to transform Malaysia into a nation of calibre, with a new mindset. It is further aimed at preparing the younger generation as potential leaders for the future.
Leaders who are unaware of the advancements brought about by 4IR will be left behind while social media platforms are being widely used by others to drive their political agenda in the coming GE14.
Posters and buntings were the first choice in the 12th and 13th general elections, but now the smartphone has become the top weapon of choice.
The bottom line is that the online presence of a political leader and how he interacts with his constituents are now of paramount importance.