Social Media: Clash of the Titans

Forget designer drugs. All hail the rise of social media as the latest global addiction – an addiction that looks all set to make face-to-face communication as obsolete as Nokia 3210 (if it hasn’t already).

Gone are the days of torment waiting for The New Yorker to arrive at my flat via post from the US. Also, there’s that small matter of the exorbitant postage charge tagged to the skinny magazine to cross the Atlantic.

Now just with a few slides on the iPad touchscreen, with the new suave apps of the magazine ever ready to receive my command, information I had used to wait days for are now instantly at my fingertips.

Whenever I got bored in meetings or courtroom (which is often), a few discreet scrolls on the android to meet the magazine’s tweethandle or its Facebook page, will send me straight to Shouts & Murmurs – my absolute favourite.

And what about the magazine’s strategic affiliation with iPad’s app called Flipboard to win the hearts of its subscribers? That’s a story for another day.

Anecdotes aside, the society – from business organisation to political parties alike – are leveraging on various social media platforms to promote their products or political messages. As the dawn of social media reaches Malaysian shores, the country has seen an estimated 17.5 million internet users, out of which, 12.4 million are Facebook users. Meanwhile, another 2 million Malaysians are hooked on Twitter.

According to the latest research by Oxford Internet Institute 2012 on Twitter users, Malaysia came in 2nd position (next to Brazil) in terms or ratio of tweets per internet user. In view of the current growth of users in Facebook and Twitter as the primary platform, perhaps it is timely to analyse the impact of social media on our political landscape vis-à-vis the forthcoming 13th general election.

FACEBOOK

Facebook remains the main social media channel in terms of number of users in Malaysia. For this exercise, a total of 345 Facebook pages have been analysed. The analysis includes, but not limited to, Facebook pages that belong to political parties, political supporters’ clubs, politically motivated movements, individual political leaders, and the self-styled political analysts roaming the social media world.

The ruling coalition and its components parties’ Facebook presence receive a total of 3.71 million ‘likes’ from a combination of 164 Facebook pages. Highest contributors come from Najib Razak (1.04 million likes) and Tun Dr. Mahathir (1.70 million likes).

Meanwhile the opposition yields 2.71 million likes from a total combination of 181 Facebook pages. Main contributors are PAS leader, Tok Guru Nik Aziz (691,950 Likes), followed by Pakatan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (376,089 Likes).

With the high number of Facebook pages created over the last 2 years, the opposition has been relentless in their effort to win supporters through various Facebook campaigns such as 100,000 People Request Anwar Ibrahim to be the Prime Minister. From this page they managed to secure 6,123 Likes.  And there’s a similar campaign titled 500,000 Request For Datuk Anwar Ibrahim For The Next PM! For A CHANGE, which registered 699 ‘likes’ to date.

Other campaign against the current ruling coalition includes, 1,000,000 People Request Najib Tun Razak Resignation, which only yielded 7,382 ‘likes’. However, BERSIH 2.0. Official Facebook Page on electoral reform has gathered a whopping 216,872 ‘likes’.

For Chinese leaders from both MCA and DAP, Lim Guan Eng and Chua Soi Lek have more or less the same amount of Facebook ‘likes’  of 143,178 and 156,523 respectively.  On the other hand, Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) has registered 38,624 ‘likes’.

Cybertrooping initiatives are heating up on both sides of the political divide. The UMNO Cybertrooper Club page has attracted 4,555 ‘likes’ as opposed to Pakatan Rakyat Cyber Trooper Club, which has only garnered 842 ‘likes’.

UMNO has come a long way post GE12. They have secured a significant footing online with a total of 109,483 ‘likes’ for their Pemuda UMNO Malaysia, UMNO Update, Media UMNO Malaysia and UMNO Facebook pages.

Comparatively, Pakatan has collected a total of 50,797 ‘likes’ from their key Facebook pages such as Pakatan Official Fanpage, Pakatan Pulau Pinang, Pakatan Selangor, Pakatan Youth, Friends of Pakatan, Pakatan Rakyat Perlis, Buletin Pakatan, Pakatan Rakyat Supporters and Pakatan Rakyat Club Facebook pages.

TWITTER

Now Twitter.

While the number of users pale in comparison to that of Facebook, Malaysia remains the 2nd highest tweet ratio per internet user next to Brazil. It means Twitter is more dynamic than Facebook in terms of expressing one’s view.

Looking at the number of tweets posted and the viral effect it can create on current issues like BERSIH and current crime index, I dare not underestimate its power in marshalling support for both political factions.

In a fiercely intense fight – combining the tweets from politicians and their influential comrades alike – Barisan has gained 1,463,638 followers while Pakatan follows closely with 1,279,452 followers.

Given that both Najib and Anwar prefer to use the one-way communication on Twitter, other politicians have since adopted a more pragmatic approach by engaging their followers on Twitter timeline.

Take @Khairykj for instance. Despite his penchant for being blunt and cynical in answering tweets, he has gained 131,764 followers in his 3 and a half years of tweeting. Khairy’s counterpart in Pakatan, Shamsul Iskandar, trails far behind with only 9,890 followers over the same period.

However, Pakatan draws strength from the ever-popular Hannah Yeoh (47,513 followers), Elizabeth Wong (34,012 followers), Nurul Izzah (60,660 followers) and an experienced politician, Lim Guan Eng (37,564).

The cat-and-mouse game intensifies with Barisan’s strong fort being dominated by Hishammuddin  Hussein (120,853 followers), Mukhriz Mahathir (74,348 followers), Tan Keng Liang (24,534 followers) and Rahman Dahlan (9,965 followers). Total followers favoring politicians from the current coalition stands at 1,170,434, while Pakatan trails closely with 774,308.

Lieutenants on both sides of the political divide are drawn to the psych-war on Twitter, like moths to a flame. I am talking about the likes of Lokman Adam, Hishamuddin Rais, Rocky’s Bru, Nathaniel Tan, Firdy Fire and Tricia Yeoh.

Of course, let’s not forget the recent spat between two local celebrities calling each other to a debate about issues plaguing the PDRM. No, I have no comment on that.

THE FORECAST

After all is told, statistics is but a collection of numbers. The true evaluation on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of political campaign via social media can only be ascertained post GE13. Political leaders must not forsake the on-ground campaign which covers the remaining 11 million people who have no access to the internet.

It is undeniable that Facebook and Twitter were instrumental to the Arab Spring Uprising and other social movements. However, the demographics and psychometrics of Malaysia is vastly different, and the impact may centralize only to urbanites and those who have internet access.

Because the dynamics of the social movement via Facebook or Twitter can be viral, I am of the view that the idea of having a social media council – to control something that is inherently uncontrollable – is but a folly.

Last but not least, we must remember that social media does not exist in a vacuum. For further clarification, please consult the lawyers in Twitterjaya – you know who am I talking about.

Note: The analysis on Facebook & Twitter was done a fortnight ago. The number has increased tremendously at the time of drafting.