If it was SMS last time, you can now add to it Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and what have you.
“It’s tough,” said one Ipoh-based Umno leader. “We have an intense fight on our hands, the toughest perhaps.”
The Barisan Nasional stalwart was talking about the ongoing campaigning for the 2013 general election (GE13).
In two days, the nation goes to the polls to vote in the next government at federal and state levels, except for Sarawak.
Communication is making a huge difference. BN has been somewhat on the defensive as the opposition coalition at the federal level is better able to communicate direct to the people – thanks to social media.
When we are done with the GE mania, social media should win some sort of an award. It is certainly a decisive differentiator in the run-up to the polls this time around.
In the GE12, the mobile short messaging service (SMS) and e-mails going viral played havoc in BN’s defence of its turf. But at no time did it really push the massive coalition to the far end on defence.
It’s different this time. Increased mobile penetration and mobile data usage have made communication easier. If it was SMS last time, you can now add to it Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and what have you.
What is social media’s impact on the local political landscape?
Most used platform
“The net impact of social media in the run-up to GE13 is that it has acted as the transmitter of online political content in Malaysia,” said James Gomez from Universiti Utara Malaysia’s School of International Studies.
“As a social networking site, Facebook in particular is the most used platform to share in particular alternative online political content.”
Gomez should know a thing or two. He contested in the Singapore general elections in 2006 and 2011, the latter on the opposition Singapore Democratic Party ticket.
Now, he is a full-time academician. In a chat about a month ago, I asked him who has benefited most from social media. No one particular side, he argued, at that stage.
“In my analysis, I feel that social media has acted as a leveller. That is, it brought balance into the realm of political news,” he said.
“On the one side, you have political news generated by the traditional print and broadcast media; on the other, you have alternative political content created by independent online media portals, blogs and video platforms that brought a ‘balance’ to the one-sided content in the traditional media.”
In a way, the “balance” means that the federal opposition would have benefited.
DAP, one of the three major parties that make up Pakatan Rakyat coalition, had even created social media strategist positions to oversee social media publicity for various campaigns like collecting RM1 donation for water rights. In that one campaign alone, it managed to raise RM130,000.
Yeo Bee Yin is one of DAP’s such strategists. Her job is to leverage the power of social media to increase exposure for the party, to “compensate for the lack of or biased coverage in the mainstream media”. Does it work?
In an e-mail reply, she said: “Social media is not a one-way communication, it’s where your fans are willing to share your materials [what we call earned media]. We have a strong fan base in social media, that’s how our news spread.
“And the rule of thumb is: what your friends say about an organisation matter more than what an organisation says about itself.”
On the other side of the political divide, BN has also been burning the social media track. It will have its impact, as well.
In some ways, it will assist the BN troopers on the ground, like those in Ipoh.
Habhajan Singh is the executive editor of The Malaysian Reserve.