GPS better take control of its cyberspace

Social media will play an important role come the 12th state election, expected in 2021, and the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government has been reminded to take the effectiveness of social media seriously.

– New Sarawak Tribune, May 31 2019

In the same news piece, Batang Sadong MP Nancy Shukri was quoted as having said, “GPS should not underestimate this. In my observation, GPS representatives are too busy working on the ground to meet people no matter during election season or not, so opposing parties take up space on social media to disseminate inaccurate information and condemn representatives of GPS.”

The GPS people must come to terms with the power of the social media. Facebook, Intsagram, WhatsApp, blogs and Twitter are connecting about 16 million or 65 per cent of Malaysians.

In fact, it is estimated that 12 million Malaysians use Facebook and nearly half a million use Tweeter while social media sites are accessed at a rate of about 19.4 million times per hour.

Of these Internet-savvy Malaysians, how many are Sarawakians? I wish I knew but I believe Sarawakians aren’t left too far behind. Just look around you, see if you can see a Sarawakian who is without a handphone. And the likelihood is one who has a handphone has a WhatsApp account, too!

Being busy on the ground is one thing; the other thing is do these elected representatives recognise the danger of ignoring the power of the social media? Ignore at your own peril because your opponents are using the social media full-time.

Now, let me share some extracts of a letter written by a PH cybertrooper (courtesy of Malaysia Today) just so you know what being a cybertrooper is like:

Sometime in late November last year, I was approached by an aide to a minister to provide “digital persuasion and social media engagement” services. The term is a euphemism for being a “cybertrooper”.

Together with my partners, all of whom are familiar with the digital and traditional media landscape, and stay on top of current affairs, we agreed. Back then, Pakatan Harapan was under heavy fire and some of the good deeds of the government were being misrepresented by the still well-funded BN online activists. Me and my partners were idealistic in wanting to turn things around for PH.

We commenced work in February after some negotiations, only with a verbal promise of the terms. Things went smoothly at first as there was a lull during the Chinese New Year period. But as public unease with the PH government grew, so did the attacks on the minister.

But instead of raising the budget for greater efficiency in countering the lies and misinformation, we were instructed to “bully” those who trolled PH leaders. This included name-calling or even using racial slurs – all trademarks of Umno, which the PH leaders had publicly stood against in the past. What a hypocrite!

The skullduggery did not end there. We were told to dig up “dirt” on top BN leaders including a former Umno minister, especially with regards to his alleged affair with a starlet and search for compromising photos of the ex-minister’s purportedly “care-free” days. All these because the former minister had sniped at the current Cabinet member.)

This is what is happening in the cyber world of Malaysian politics now. People don’t care for etiquette or the truth. They care only for results.

News is written in such a way that make people react angrily. When there is anger, news will travel faster and wider. The more the number of people that get angry, the wider the audience and many more people will hate.

The BN went down because Malaysians were taught to hate and believe in kleptocracy and 1MDB. Truth did not matter. When people are angry, they don’t care for the truth.

In the cyber world, we can be subtly manipulated to react without being critical of issues that are being engineered to hook, distract, and cause us to react in certain desired manner.

We are drawn to information bias, conflicts, manipulation, sensationalism, fake news and photo-shopped images.

Photos of dirt roads in Papua New Guinea were misrepresented as roads in Kapit. Videos of fights elsewhere in the world came with synopses that pitted one Sarawakian race against another. And detractors had many field days accusing the state government of favouring one race over others!

GPS needs to fight back – cybertrooper for cybertrooper, if need be.

The BN made the mistake of ignoring a systematic campaign against it in the cyber world, and it went down.