Malaysia

As polls loom, Najib seizes a chunk of social media

By Anisah Shukry
May 17, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, May 17 — With over one million Facebook friends and 500,000 Twitter followers, Datuk Seri Najib Razak appears to have gained a solid footing in the social media networks which have become the latest battleground for support in the coming general election.

According to the monitoring website socialbakers.com, the prime minister gets over 1,100 Facebook fans a day and some 40,000 people spoke about him in a day on that social media network this past week.

Najib now has one million Facebook friends and 500,000 Twitter followers. — File picNajib now has one million Facebook friends and 500,000 Twitter followers. — File picLast Saturday, Najib took an hour off from running the country to discuss football with four Twitter followers over nasi lemak and teh tarik, an indication that the prime minister finds such networking vital in reaching out to voters.

Party strategists and analysts say he is not far off the mark there — in an increasingly technologically savvy world, more Malaysians are turning to the Internet to learn more about the lives of those helming the country.

This turn of events has lead to politicians setting up Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube accounts en masse so that they can virtually reach out to the people, bypassing the mainstream media which has seen dropping circulation for newspapers and shrinking audiences for the pro-government broadcasting stations. RTM recently began a mobile television service to connect with younger audiences whose lifestyle does not keep them at home during prime-time news broadcasts.

“In the old days, politicians relied on newspapers to update the people. But now everything is done through Facebook,” said Professor James Chin, who heads social sciences at Monash University in Bandar Sunway, Petaling Jaya.

“All politicians, whether they like it or not, must have a Facebook page,” he added.

Chin told The Malaysian Insider that in Najib’s case, he was doing it on a “more sophisticated level” because he has staff handling his accounts for him.

“It gives him the aura of being someone up to date and hip. He’s reaching out, he’s in tune with the times, in tune with young people and new technology.”

But, he said, such efforts by Najib, while good for his image, might not necessarily translate to more ballots for Barisan Nasional (BN) given that online social networks are dominated by youngsters not yet legible to vote.

Chin said the social media efforts by Najib might not necessarily translate to more ballots for BN.Chin said the social media efforts by Najib might not necessarily translate to more ballots for BN.For instance, Najib’s 500,000th Twitter follower whom he had breakfast with, Anwaruddin Izzuddin, is merely 15 years old.

Coincidentally, the BN Facebook page has less than 24,000 fans, with a growth rate of just over 100 a day, 10 per cent of its popular chairman. It is understood that BN is looking at several strategies to make itself popular in all social media sites in the next few weeks ahead of the general election.

Political analyst Ong Kian Ming also pointed out that while social media is necessary for political campaigning, no amount of Facebook “likes” could garner votes for BN if Najib fields unpopular candidates in the next general election.

The USCI lecturer stressed that strong online presence was necessary for all politicians in BN to ensure their success in the general election.

“A lot of young people, even those in rural and semi-rural areas, have social media accounts. And these people tend to be apolitical. So this is an opportunity for them to win over voters,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

He said that while Najib dominates the social media networks by virtue of the resources he commands as prime minister, opposition leaders appeared to be using such networks more effectively.

“Barisan Nasional slogans such as 1 Malaysia, ETP and even the recent Umno anniversary where they say 100,000 people turned up... none of that resonates with the people so much,” said Ong.

Ong said strong online presence was necessary for all politicians in BN to ensure their success in the general electionOng said strong online presence was necessary for all politicians in BN to ensure their success in the general election“But when people’s Facebook timelines are flooded with videos and pictures of Bersih, for example, it is much more effective in capturing people’s eyeballs and attention.”

The authorities have also gone in a big way to counter those videos, with the police uploading a series of video clips during Bersih and for days after the April 28 rally. RTM has also recently produced a documentary on the rally but it was initially only broadcast over television.

One way politicians could win votes through social media networks, Ong suggested, was to use the social media to engage with the people rather than to push political messages.

“They should share their lifestyle, show that they do what regular people do. For example, (Umno Youth chief) Khairy Jamaluddin tweets about watching football,” he said.

“Since it takes a certain skill to not sound inane, they have to make themselves come off as interesting, by identifying with a social trend in a more personal aspect. They can’t just tweet that they’re having nasi lemak or are watching a movie,” he added.

He also said BN should rely less on cybertroopers and negative campaigning on the Internet.

“That is what I think the mainstream media is good for, so if BN replicates that on the Internet, they are not reaching new ground,” he said.