April 4, 2017
By Dave Avran
The Russians hacked a few American computers, sowed confusion and created chaos leading millions of Americans to believe that they helped Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton.
Their most infamous move was the theft of e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, which were likely passed on to WikiLeaks before becoming the basis of damaging information about Clinton and the Democratic party, which were subsequently released into the mainstream news cycle.
Russia used trolls and bots to impact the American news cycle by creating artificial “surges” of commentary online. They also used propaganda outlets to affect the national debate, and intentionally tried to plant certain ideas and themes into the American electorate’s consciousness, including the notion that the election was “rigged” against Trump, which Trump himself picked up.
So how exactly did the Russians help Trump win the election? That’s one of the questions that makes this controversy so toxic. More than 130 million Americans voted in the 2016 election, but the actual outcome ironically hinged on around 80,000 voters in three key states.
Last year’s Presidential race was one of the most scandal-ridden in modern history, conducted by two of the most unpopular major-party nominees ever. What is certain is that the Russian government has run one of the most cost-effective and disruptive espionage operations in history.
Through a few simple hacks, some basic online trolling, and garden-variety propaganda spread by social media, the Kremlin turned a superpower’s politics upside down.
Now its chief geopolitical rival is divided, with leaders obviously more furious at each other than at the foreign power who created the crisis. Russia may well face a day of reckoning for its attack on American democracy, but for now it has won, and the magnitude of its victory increases with each petty and partisan turn in Washington’s most consequential drama.
Back home in Malaysia, social media postings are creating a grim public perception of tourism in Penang, affecting the roughly 5.7 million tourist arrivals yearly.
Recent events have created the impression online that Penang may not be all that safe to visit. There have been two high profile murders in the last three months.
On December 1 last year Datuk Ong Teik Kwong, 32, who was allegedly the leader of an underworld gang, was shot dead by his own bodyguard. The bodyguard then proceeded on a shooting spree killing two others and wounding four persons.
On February 21 this year, businesswoman Ruby Lee Poh Ai, 49, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Both events quickly went viral on social media with many people adding unverified information and coming up with outrageous conspiracy theories. Lee’s murder remains unsolved with no arrests made so far.
In cyberspace, the damage has been done. There are numerous postings advising people to stay home in the wake of “rampant terror attacks” and “gangland style killings”. The impression given is that Penang is an unsafe place and that the crime situation is escalating.
The fact is that the murder rate in Malaysia is among the lowest in the world. For the past thirty years, our murder rate per capita has been approximately three persons per 100,000, which is half the world average of 6.2. As a comparison, the murder rate for the US is 16.3 and for Africa it is 12.5.
Admittedly there was a surge in shooting cases with the repeal of the Emergency Ordinance (1969) in 2011 but the introduction of new legislation like the Prevention of Crime Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act have empowered the authorities to act swiftly against offenders.
It’s no secret that unverified information spread online purportedly of widespread criminal activities has a negative impact on Penang’s tourism and erodes public confidence.
Therefore please do check and verify the source of information you receive on your various social media channels against reputable websites and media organizations before you hit the send or share button.