This article first appeared in Malaysiakini on January 26, 2018.
Comparing the 2013 elections and now, BN has improved on its social media influencing but the opposition has failed to drum up the level of online support it previously had, a researcher said today.
Dr Ross Tapsell, director of the Australian National University (ANU) Malaysia Institute, said BN is doing a more “comprehensive” job at getting its message across to online audiences.
“With BN, I think they are doing a far more professional, comprehensive and interlinked job around new media than they did in 2013,” said Tapsell during his “New media and politics in Southeast Asia” talk at Sunway University in Petaling Jaya today.
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak previously admitted that BN had lost in the “cyber war” against the opposition in the previous polls including in 2008 which he dubbed as the country’s first “social media election”.
This was after new media proved to be a significant factor in the eventual outcome of the 2008 and 2013 polls.
GE13 saw BN forming government but without its two-thirds majority in Parliament which it lost for the first time in 2008 since Malaysia’s independence.
Tapsell, whose area of research is digital media use in Southeast Asia, said BN had since learned from its mistake and now recognises the importance of social media for their political campaigns.
“In 2013 they were still unsure what they were doing in new media campaigning, (but) now they know exactly what they are doing, (and) I think they are doing it pretty well.
“You look at how some BN officials, like Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz and Annuar Musa, they are all very vocal (online).
“I think they have realised the importance of social media,” he added.
Tun Faisal heads the government’s propaganda unit, the Special Affairs Department (Jasa), while Annuar is Umno information chief.
On the contrary, he observed that Pakatan Harapan was falling short in online support compared to what its predecessor Pakatan Rakyat received in the run-up to the 2013 polls.
“My feeling is that the opposition at the moment does not have the strong online support it had in 2013.
“It does seem that the mass online mobilisation that we saw in 2013 from the opposition is not as organised or as well-funded or as strong as it once was,” said Tapsell.
He observed that Harapan seemed to be struggling to decide on a focused political narrative which he noted was a key ingredient for effective political messaging.
“I think they are still figuring out their narrative. We recently heard that Dr Mahathir Mohamad was named as their (prime ministerial) candidate.
“It’s hard to mobilise a particular message when you haven’t decided on the messages yet.
“(Also), the sort of angry voters online (which you saw in 2013) are less active now, maybe this is a sign of defeatism,” said Tapsell.