Don’t pick a fight with the Internet

By ZB OTHMAN / Pic By BLOOMBERG

On Sunday, Klinik Jerawat Seremban followed me on Instagram. Yes, I do have an Instagram and yes, there are people/ entities who actually follow me.

Klinik Jerawat Seremban joins the very exclusive list of people who follow me which include 8line.cuci.aircond and kelvin_the_old_coins_collector too.

The fact that I have people, even though their number is modest, who take an interest when I post pictures of the cat getting stuck on the roof, gives me a feeling of power of sorts.

To my 30 followers at least, I feel I can move minds.

So, imagine someone who has 4.1 million followers, what can you do with that? The responsibility of having so many followers would make my hair whiter and sparser than it is now.

If I made a twit of myself on Twitter, only 30 people would notice, but what if I do the same and 4.1 million people see it? In SocMed, a little goes a long way — an advice that the previous government could have used before the last general election.

When they discovered SocMed, the previous government, who is not known to go halfway in any project involving money, had in fact built an entire strategy to win the hearts and minds of the people who don’t watch mainline television, radio, or listen to the continuous speeches of former PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak that are played on the MRT. They wanted to win the 14th General Election on SocMed.

In the popular mind, election campaigns are fiery speeches delivered from the back of pickup trucks, or in stadiums full of well-fed, colour-coordinated supporters, where politicians do their best to persuade people to out and vote for them.

In the 2018 campaign, we did see massive rallies, or at least we saw massive rallies on one side of the fight for Putrajaya.

While the incumbent Barisan Nasional’s (BN) well-organised and well-funded rallies were poorly attended, the Pakatan Harapan’s more modestly organised get-togethers over- flowed to the streets wherever they set up tent.

But the real battle for the election of 2018 was being waged on mobile phones. It was being waged in the mamak shops, the bus stop and yes —

for more people than you and I would suspect — in the excellent privacy of the morning bathroom where it’s peaceful and quiet.

Other countries have street marches revolutions, Malaysia’s revolution was waged on the smartphone.

This was born more out of necessity than by design. In the 2008 general election, the Opposition managed to wrest five states and the two-thirds parliamentary advantage from BN by getting their message through social media because all other conventional avenues were denied to them.

As a result, the BN set up its own cyber division to harness the power of SocMed to influence young minds and counter this new way of campaigning.

It sounds dodgy when you imagine how hard it is to get young minds to clean up their rooms, let alone understand politics, but it worked for Pakatan Harapan and that was good enough.

The only problem was that BN was and still is unclear about the concept. Social media is spontaneous, and

largely moronic mob-thinking. Any SocMed marketer knows you need to be a bit crazy to sell things on the platform, but most important of all, you need to adapt every message to the whatever silly thing that the Internet is preoccupied at the time.

The BN needed to adapt its message to the platform, but they never did, and as a result, ran the most tone-deaf campaign on SocMed ever in the history of the world.

For example, when people were complaining about the price of poultry, the best the BN cyber troopers could come up with was to share the thoughts of the honourable minister who said don’t eat chicken if you cannot afford it, which is actually true, but not something you say to the Internet.

BN’s cause was not helped by its employment of bots that sent out inane hashtag messages like #respectmyPM, sometimes thousands of times in the same thread. Instead of helping the cause, it just annoyed people.

The same goes for the poor soul who handled the Twitter account of Najib.

No matter what he wrote, people would just send back hate mail mainly because the tweets were inane and seemingly oblivious to what the people were feeling.

During the height of campaigning when the issues were cost of living and the billions lost to 1Malaysia Development Bhd, Najib tweeted about how delicious was the murtabak in Pekan.

Well, the election is in the history books and Najib is staring at full blown investigations over allegations of graft and power abuse.

That Najib continues to send out the same sort of posts on Twitter and Facebook after he lost the election continues to rile a large chunk of the SocMed population.

“Najib was annoying when he tweeted as prime minister, his tweets are even more annoying now that he’s not the prime minister,” said one of my ardent Instagram followers.

  • ZB Othman is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.