October 13, 2022
PETALING JAYA – In what has been billed as the “mother of all elections”, big fights are expected all over the country. But there is another place where the battles are also being fought – in cyberspace.
While the official campaigning is due to begin only after nomination day, the battle in cyberspace has already taken on a feverish pace, with candidates scrambling to catch the electorate.
Even candidates who at one time did not seem to have a penchant for social media are now getting active on it, posting videos of their rounds on TikTok and Facebook.
Music, video styles and hashtags are being used to make their content more noticeable.
Some are even actively engaging in conversations online with their followers and even haters.
Among those active on social media are Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli, Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin and DAP vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran.
Political analyst Datuk Dr Jeniri Amir said social media would continue to play a role in the upcoming elections, especially since there would be many young voters.
“Social media influence was there during the 14th General Election (GE14) in 2018 and this time around, it (the influence) will be bigger with Undi18.
“The number of new voters aged between 18 and 21 is quite high at around seven million, so social media can be an effective political marketing and communication tool,” said the National Professors Council senior fellow.
Dubbed as digital democracy, the use of cyberspace for political communication was said to be among the reasons Barisan Nasional lost to Pakatan Harapan, which was more aggressive on social media during GE14, said Jeniri.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Legal Affairs) Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsuddin in August said out of more than 21.1 million registered voters, 1,141,749, or 5.4%, were aged 18 to 20, while 64.6% were aged 21 and over.
She said the Undi18 enforcement on Dec 15, 2021 saw a significant increase in the number of voters of 5.8 million people, of which 1.2 million were young people aged 18 to 20.
Jeniri, however, cautioned against neglecting the traditional media as it was still crucial, particularly in ensuring that the parties’ manifestos reached the electorate, especially those in the rural areas.
“Every platform should be used, and the traditional ones such as newspapers, television, radio and even flyers have always been effective.
“Flyers can be distributed to their target audience, including those who live in longhouses or villages.
“Infographics are also a useful tool to help the illiterate and even young people by giving them information and policies related to the candidates and their political parties,” he added.
The new media, he said, was often abused to spread black propaganda and fake news.
“That is why it is very important for the public to refer to traditional media, which is handled by professionals and known for its ethics and factual reporting.
“They will not simply publish information without verifying the facts first,” Jeniri added.
Political analyst Prof Dr Muhammad Fuad Othman pointed out that while social media was more common among youngsters, some of the platforms were also gaining popularity among the older generation.
He said these platforms provided a convenient way for political parties to gain a greater reach.
“Those who can grasp the idea of social media as a component in their campaign would have the upper hand because we have a large number of new voters.
“This includes not only those who are 18 but also those who are older but have never voted before (but were automatically registered under new laws).
“Political parties must try to attract these groups of voters,” Prof Muhammad Fuad added.