One of the more amusing political narratives of the 21st century revolves around the Baby Boomers’ efforts to quickly lure Gen Y and Gen Z into their particular ideologies. Members of these two younger generations demand to be inspired by their leaders. They want to be given a bigger purpose than to simply help their elders stay in power.
Gen Y grew up with several significant cultural touchstones, most notably the War on Terror and the internet’s coming into its own with the explosion of social media and the content creator trend. This has led to what could be called a lateral world view. Gen Y does not see structure working from top to bottom, but across a spectrum. This particular sociological shift can be attributed to the growth social media, and today, politicians from all over the world are racing to try to understand how to talk to Gen Y.
So it is with this in mind that we turn to Umno’s exhortation to its members to master social media in order to reach out to Gen Y. While the party has been slow on the uptake with this more direct form of communication with the masses, old habits die hard. The true problem with the idea of Umno mastering social media does not lie in the tools but in the mindset.
Coming back to the idea of a lateral world view, Gen Y has a noted preference for collaboration and a disdain for being talked down to. Gen Y has realised that the only difference between a CEO and a drain sweeper is in the pay package, that the true value of one’s job lies in the impact one has on society. The problem with authoritarian governments is that they are accustomed to talking down on citizens and having instructions followed, and this habit has been sorely challenged by the proliferation of social media and the ubiquitous freedom of the internet.
Given this paradigm, Umno first needs to be open to criticism. Its virulent opposition to criticism – real or imagined – is a put-off to Gen Y, and perhaps nothing will change even if billions of ringgit are made available to a social media team whose sole job would be to combat criticism.
Secondly, authenticity matters, as does presentation. Despite the effusive praise some Umno leaders have had for Najib Razak’s fearless forays into social media, a picture of the Prime Minister lifting 2kg weights does not make for inspirational or aspirational material.
Social media is certainly an opportunity. But it is also the Wild West resurrected. Members of the Umno elite will find that on social media, they are no longer leaders and warlords. Anonymity is a great equaliser between the powerful and the powerless. A failure to recognise that will only mean Umno will continue to be irrelevant to Gen Y and Gen Z.
Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.
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