Monday, March 17, 2008

Cyber Denial: A Time For Honest Reevaluation IV

Barisan Nasional refused to acknowledge the power of the Internet and this has come at it's own peril.

There are those that claim that this is the first time the Internet has affected national election. With Internet penetration and usage in the rural and non urban area still relatively low, it is could not be primary reason but came in tandem with other political factors.

For an honest reevaluation, two articles related to the Internet and blogs are republished below. First is a New Straits Times article:
Cyber Clout

By Sonia Ramachandran and Audrey Vijayndren
News Straits Times
16 March 2008

Eighty-five out of every 100 Malaysians carry a mobile phone and almost half the population surfs the internet. Was the impact of this alternative media in the general election as big as is claimed by some people? SONIA RAMACHANDRAN and AUDREY VIJAINDREN surf the sea of opinions and facts to find out

THE more frequently a person surfs the internet to read election-related news, the more likely he is to vote for the opposition.

This is what a survey on the role and influence of the Internet on voters conducted in 1999 found.

This finding was echoed in a similar survey during the 2004 general election.

And this is probably what happened in the 2008 general election, especially with the SMS (short messaging service) frenzy joining the bandwagon.

Politicians and voters cite the alternative media —the Internet and the SMS —as a contributory influence on the voting trend this time around.

In the 1999 survey — carried out during the general election period — 85.2 per cent of those polled said the Internet would play a major role in the outcome.

The 2004 survey too showed that whichever party was adept at tapping the power of the internet, including online journalism, as well as SMSes, would garner more votes, especially among the younger generation..

Almost 40 per cent of the respondents in the 1999 survey agreed the Internet had influenced their voting choices.

The surveys were led by Associate Professor Dr.

Baharuddin Aziz of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) who is currently tabulating the results for this year’s survey.

Baharuddin expects the 2008 survey to show public political speeches to be the main source of information for the voters.

The Internet, he said, played a role in relaying the date, time and place of the event to the public.

On the swing to the opposition at the recent election, based on his observations, Baharuddin said the results would likely show the Internet played a role.

“Voters felt the government was strong and capable but certain arrogant utterances by some ministers and parliamentarians which were posted on the Internet upset and disappointed them. So, they chose to vote for the opposition.

“Images posted on Internet of Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) and the dispersion of crowds during demonstrations also had a negative impact on the people. It just made the public feel lousy,” he said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia academician Datuk Prof Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said the government was totally unprepared for the impact of the alternative media of the internet and SMS during the general election.

A New Sunday Times street poll also found sentiment among the general public was that the government had underestimated the power of the alternative media.

And former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said Barisan Nasional component parties had not fully utilised the alternative media to their advantage.

“They only tried to shut down what they thought was very critical of the government and even tried to block the blogs.

“Some of the SMSes are also misleading and false, but people still believe them.” On the recent election, Baharuddin said visuals of the ‘ker is’ wielding incident at the Umno general assembly posted on the Internet also had an impact.

“Imagine these images being distributed to Chinese school teachers the day before election. Some of those we spoke to felt that as an education minister (Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein), should have been more cautious. ” Another example, he said was the Lingam video tape.

“If the tape was not posted over the Internet, it would not have attracted so much attention. ” Bahar uddin’s findings from the 2004 survey on the role and influence of the Internet and the SMS found that 81.9 per cent of respondents were of the opinion the Internet was an important alternative channel for political and current issues.

Interestingly, 32 per cent said the Internet had influenced their voting choice while 61.7 per cent said it had no bearing. on their choice.

The survey polled 600 people aged 21 and above in peninsular Malaysia on election day. Others in the team were associate professor Abdullah @ Kassim Mohamad, Mohammad Yaacob and Zulkifli Abd. Latiff, all from UiTM.

The 2004 survey found 35 per cent had never received any politics-related messages while 8.7 per cent said they received such messages very often.

But on the whole, 73.2 per cent claimed they were not influenced by “political” SMSs. They had mostly used the SMS to check the electoral register for their polling centres.

“The respondents added they paid more attention to messages on the date and venue of political speeches instead of those that involved jokes,” says Baharuddin.

The survey also found that those between the ages of 20 and 35 were the most frequent users of the Internet and SMS.

“The Internet and SMS are important to mobilise people to attend public political speeches and to raise funds. ” Although in 2004, the Internet and SMS did not have a profound influence, Baharuddin said it sensitised people to issues.

In the 1999 survey, the Internet ranked third after public political speeches and television as a source of information.

Newspapers ranked fourth.

In 2004, however, the Internet ranked fifth as a source of information even though the number of users increased.

“This was because of the ‘Pak Lah’ (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) factor.

“People were looking forward to giving him the mandate because of his ‘Mr Clean’ image,” says Bahar uddin This time, the situation was different. Academician Shamsul said the government should learn from the experience and to become “AD and not BC”.

“This is because the government is made up of BC (Before Computers) representatives.

The government has to be AD (After Digital),” he said.

Shamsul, who is a current affairs commentator as well as founder-director of UKM’s Institute of Ethnic Studies, said the government was not prepared to respond to the allegations made against it through this medium.

How deep was the influence of this alternative media? “It allowed people to make informed choices which were expressed through the ballot box. The problem, however, is the quality of information provided.

“The public accepts this information as the truth and the government is not able to contradict it due to its BC mentality.

“Whether the alternative media had a big or small impact, I don’t know. But it did definitely play a role.” in this general election,” he said.

Another factor was the scope of this media.

“Everyone in the world can participate in it because it’s borderless. This includes the thousands of Malaysian students abroad as well as those who had migrated and were just venting their frustration.”

*BC (Before Computers); AD (After Digital)

The second is a Malaysia Today article below:

A Cyber Prescription For Barisan Nasional...

Malaysia Today:
Sunday, 16 March 2008

As BN reeled from the absymal results from the freshly concluded GE, we spoke with a cyber strategist from Cleat & Clew Communication on a possible prescription:

"Anyone here is not blind to the fact that Malaysians are increasingly relying on the internet or audio digital technological devices like handphones to express themselves, create or maintaining social circles. This new communication methodology is changing the way Malaysians see themselves or communicate with their families, friends and the world.

One of the things political parties would do well is to connect with their electorate on the internet and use it as a platform to examine reaction and changes in society's thinking, concerns and hopes.

BN would be well advised to seriously re-examine their communication strategy with a focus on uncluttered dissemination of information about the future and most important of all, devise active cyber engagements with their audience and stakeholders on a listening and reciprocity basis.

As an important component of this age of information, the internet is spurring broad societal changes. The results of this GE has demonstrated exactly that. More people, especially young adults highly prize the form of privacy, fast, 'unpropaganda' and easy communication unfamiliar to the BN.

The computer, along with the internet, which extends its technological cross platforms to mobile devices has given even the young students or working people virtual lives and egos distinctly separate from those of their parents and siblings. For many people, the internet has become an identity shaping and psyche changing vehicle. Way ahead of the BN, the opposition parties has latched on to the internet in a fierce way to reach and change perceptions of voters.

BN would do well to fill this fast widening communication gap with voters quickly in time for the 13th GE. Thus far, BN's attempts to reach out to voters on the internet has produced more minuses than pluses.

Engaging voters on the internet is a time consuming process and requires unique listening skillsets to get messages across. For instance, one cannot just expect to set up a website and think that it has succeeded in sending its message across. Unfortunately for BN, engagement with the Malaysians on the internet goes beyond that simplistic thinking.

Internet and handphone are not alone in this silent multimedia phenomenon. Abetted by Astro, the result is that the makciks and pakciks at home in the kampung are connected more than ever to national and daily issues, unlike previously in the last decade. Internet, instant messaging, e-mail and the likes have given a platform to its users to assert their voice and thoughts, creating their own inventive, quirky messages.

This phenomenon has also essentially hide the users and their personal opinions from the plain sight of BN, resulting in it being beaten up by a 'tsunami'.

This GE has demonstrated how the voters have become more alienated from BN than ever in history. Malaysians are now more connected than ever, and also far more independent in seeking multi-perspectival information rather than unquestioningly lap up the mainstream newspapers' 'propaganda'.

To be fair, BN has always been voicing its concerns to all about the nation’s well-being, tolerance and harmony. However the rise of the internet offers an unexpected twist in that dynamic. It will be an extremely sharp learning curve for BN if it ventures to re-look into its communications strategy and also quickly educate its politicians about learning to engage with their voters in the cyberspace where everybody is equally special.

Better do it quick, before the people become unaware of BN's presence as they gravitate to something newer."

My final word. Please cut the arrogance. Listen, learn, answer and explain sensibly. In this new knowledge economy, information and communication cmes at a press of a button. This is irreversible. Appreciate it or demise.

1 comment:

Vijay said...

Indeed, there is no doubt that the alternative forms of communication is one of the predominant reasons behind the dissemination of information against BN.

Bloggers have moved beyond 'unemployed women' and 'liars' to become valid sources of information.

However, BN is still in arrogantly in denial.

Their downfall wasn't because of the internet, or for not understanding the youths of this nation, or any other reason they're so quick to publish via the MSM.

Their downfall is because they no longer care about anything but themselves. Their arrogance, corruption, and apathy has led them down this path, and there might be no turning back for them.

My mechanics, an unlikely group of individuals to even use a PC, have voted for PAS not because of what they have read on blogs, but because they have felt the political current run against them and their community.

This is likely elsewhere as well.

My Say