The Internet has brought with it much that is good and much that is bad. It has been the driving force for the 21st Century version of revolutions, with social media and smart devices becoming essential tools for community organizing and for spreading news as it happens, scaring many governments in the process, particularly governments with an authoritarian bent. In Malaysia, the Internet and the connectivity it affords has finally allowed opposition parties to play on a level field in the dissemination of information.
The BN government has struggled to play catch up in the social media game, but now, Malaysia’s own social media phenomenon, Ahmad Maslan, will be taking command of a new “cyber army” that aims to tackle the spread of what he calls “misinformation” about the regime he represents. He hopes that this army will be able to depend on BN allies online to obtain information that the government doesn’t have.
But Ahmad has yet to address the true problem – the deficit of trust between the government and the people. This deep mistrust of the government and its motives has long been ingrained in the rakyat, but it became more entrenched after the events of the last days of July 2015, when the Najib administration took what looked like draconian measures in alleged attempts to circumvent investigations into 1MDB and the deposit of RM2.6 billion to the Prime Minister’s personal accounts.
We have seen our currency dip to record lows, we have seen our country’s good name dragged through the mud in the international coverage of the 1MDB scandal, we have endured nonsensical statements from our ministers about tightening our belts as the cost of living rises. The people have run out of trust to give, and it will take a lot more than a new wave of cybertroopers to change our perceptions.
In fact, the announcement that a new cyber army will be commissioned and the consequent speculation that it will cost the public a lot of money will no doubt enrage those already convinced that the government is cutting costs in all the wrong places when the worst of the bloat sits there festering. Add to that the fact that Malaysian society is becoming increasingly polarized, and one can see that the commission of a cyber army seems less and less likely to do any good. It will only intensify quarrels among us, whereas we must look to unity to get through these troubling times.
The government will need more than just another propaganda engine in its attempt to regain the trust of the people. If actions do not live up to words on several important issues weighing on our country right now, a million-strong cyber army will not change anything.