KUALA LUMPUR: The official campaigning for the 15th general election (GE15) will only kick off on Nov 5 but political parties are already making their presence felt on social media, aiming their pitches at netizens who have yet to decide which “camp” to support.
In the run-up to GE14, Facebook was the main battleground for many digitally-savvy candidates but this time, TikTok is emerging as their numero uno social media platform to win over the hearts and minds of voters, especially youths.
The popularity of this short video creation and sharing site can be attributed to its substantial user base – as of early this year, TikTok had an estimated 17 million users in Malaysia, most of them aged above 18.
On Nov 19, Malaysians will go to the polls to elect a new government. The nation’s electorate is estimated at 21 million, out of which 34 percent are first-time voters.
Interestingly, about 3.8 million of the new voters are aged 18 and above – Gen Z, born in the information technology and information explosion era and are IT-savvy and social media “experts”.
Considering the situation, questions are bound to arise about the maturity of these young voters and the decisions they will make at the ballot box in the face of information overload, including fabricated postings that some observers think can influence the voting trends of this particular generation.
Negative news more attractive
According to political observer and social media personality Tai Zee How, the younger generation of electors relies heavily on social media to get information.
“It’s evident on social media that more Malaysians are interested in politics now than in previous years. Unfortunately, they seem to be more interested in spreading false news and slander, and using impolite language,” he said.
He said their maturity can be gauged based on the information and views they share on social media, adding that this can be used as a guide in evaluating their voting trends.
“The maturity of Malaysian voters has, however, been inconsistent since the independence era, rather it is skewed towards their socio-economic status, race, age, locality, occupation, gender and so on.
“But their maturity levels are set to rise as the people are no longer relying on information from certain sources only. It’s just that the assessment of their maturity is different and it is subjective and relative to one another,” he said.
Meanwhile, commenting on the popularity of social media in the run-up to GE15, political and social media analyst Prof Dr Sara Chinnasamy said politicians and candidates who fail to take advantage of social media tools will find themselves lagging behind in the dissemination of their party policies, campaign materials and manifesto promises.
Sara, a communication and journalism lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Mara, said the online election “warfare” started back in 2008 (GE12), picking up steam in GE13 (2013) which even got labelled as a social media election as candidates and parties had capitalised on that medium to get their messages across to the people.
“The (current) TikTok wave is unavoidable… it was the most popular platform in use during the elections in countries such as Germany, Colombia, Philippines and the United States,” she told Bernama,
But, she cautioned, social media platforms can also serve as “incubators” for baseless and misleading content, which is the flip side of social media campaigning.
Urging politicians and candidates to use social media responsibly, Sara said they should only convey information that is based on facts and backed by data, not unverified posts that can stir up emotions.
According to her, unleashing a social media campaign that incites hatred will not win votes but the distrust of the people. Acting ethically on social media, on the other hand, will enhance the credibility of a candidate and the party he or she represents.
“The unethical behaviour of candidates can lead to more electors deciding to become fence sitters and declining to vote,” she added.
Senior fellow of the National Professors Council Datuk Dr Jeniri Amir, meanwhile, advised young voters not to blindly accept any content published on social media.
“It’s important for youngsters not to swallow every post they read on social media because some of the content is posted by people who have their own agenda. If they believe everything they read, their decision (at the ballot box) may be influenced by what they had read,” he said.
He said netizens should, instead, try to verify the facts by checking with credible sources such as established media organisations.
He said voters must remember that the decision they make on Nov 19 is for the next five years.
“… acting hastily in making a decision will ultimately cause harm to the constituency and the candidate they vote for,” he added. -BERNAMA