By Ali Imran Mohd Noordin
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- In 2009, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak who was then the deputy president of UMNO had underscored the crucial role of the new media in Malaysia's fast changing political landscape.
He was among the earliest Barisan Nasional leaders to adopt the new media bandwagon in reaching out to the people through his Twitter and Facebook accounts - where he shared his thoughts and the current developments with the masses. He even took in his stride the criticisms levelled against him in the same media.
With the 14th General Election (GE14) getting closer, the new media has become a fertile turf for political parties and opponents to take on one another. Malaysians have become accustomed to the bigotry and irresponsible content coming from all sides through the new media.
Hence, it is not surprising that UMNO Vice president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi when officiating the UMNO Women, Youth and Puteri wings meetings on Tuesday found it fit to voice his concern over the threat brought by the new media, which he described as "a different type of threat altogether".
On the same day Ahmad Zahid launched the Skuad Penerangan Anak Muda (SPAM), (Youngsters Information Squad), a squad made up of youngsters who would serve as the purveyors of information for UMNO Youth during GE 14. It is another effort to bolster the party's presence and goals through the new media.
Despite of the party's attempts to make its presence felt over the social media, and to reach out to the masses and negate the never ending vitriol from political opponents and netizens, UMNO is still lags in the new media realm unlike the opposition.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Kelubi, Jasin, Melaka branch Youth Chief Nasaruddin Rahmat observed that the social media audience could be divided into three groups. First UMNO and government supporters, second the opposition supporters and the third, the fence sitters.
"The fence sitters represent the biggest group. Many of the youngsters today are well educated and loathe at the current political trends.
"They have had enough of the ruling and opposing parties pointing fingers at each other, " said Nasaruddin who actively campaigns in his area through the social media.
He noted that although UMNO was a decade late to start its campaign in the cyber realm compared with its counterparts in the opposition side, it worked hard and the consistently to make an impact through the new media. It is seeing some results now.
"We have seen people venting out their anger on UMNO through the social media, instead of fighting them back we have changed our methodology to present a clearer picture of the situation by providing them with information. Let them evaluate and make their own decisions, " he explained further.
He also did not rule out the possibility that the netizens got carried away by their emotions and their angst over UMNO. Many also fell for the opposition that have mastered the art of creating perceptions and mounting personal attacks on BN. This is where the true facts play a crucial role in clearing the air over allegations and defamation.
Nasaruddin felt UMNO cybertroopers have to buck up their communication and psycho-linguistic skills so that the information could be delivered accurately and effectively. This is something that Najib himself once had pointed out.
UMNO CYBERTROOPERS FALL BELOW THE MARK
A party member from Nerusa Lending, Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, Abdul Muiez Mohammad Ruslee, 34, found that news on UMNO were not well received by netizens. This can be seen from the readers' comments on the news portals.
Abdul Muiez pointed out the same could be seen in the netizens' response on Najib's tweets. Malaysian netizens can really get nasty as even the Manchester United football club is not spared from their toxic criticisms.
Nonetheless, UMNO cybertroopers are no match to their opposition counterparts. Hence, party members at the grassroots have to complement the efforts by using their personal social media sites.
In doing this, Abdul Muiez believed there was no need for one to admit openly that he or she is an UMNO member. Instead all that is needed is to share the information and sentiments in a way that is easily understood by the people.
"We have to make friends with as many people as possible. When we declare our political allegiances openly, some may distance themselves from us. Hence, to avoid antagonising anyone we take a discreet approach and at the same time share the related links that highlight the facts and not blindly brag about the government, " he said to Bernama.
MANAGING WITH THE SENTIMENTS
Ampang Division UMNO IT Bureau Chief Syaiful Arief Mohamad Said also concurred with Nasaruddin and Abdul Muiez Syaiful on the party's feeble impact over the new media and the other approaches that can be considered.
Syaiful Arief noted that not only the people have to be enlightened over a host of issues and allegations faced by the party and its leaders but also manage the people's sentiments.
"What is more important is being yourself. In the social media like Facebook I have friends from my schooldays, there are also relatives and party colleagues. Create a balance between the political posts and personal posts so that they don't get annoyed. If you just keep posting on politics, they will get fed up, " he said.
By this way, the doors for a matured discourse can be opened and the diversity of opinions can be accommodated.
Based on his experience of campaigning in the cyber realm since 2008, Syaiful Arief said this is how he made many friends through Facebook and learnt the way to interact with them especially the fence sitters.
At the same time he did not deny that there were some who opted for a more aggressive approach, as they were ready to anything for their party.
DON'T COUNT US OUT
Speaking of netizens ridiculing and insulting UMNO and its leaders, Syaiful noted the party's campaign machinery has yet to grasp the 'troll culture' of the netizens today in addressing the problem.
"There are some who really loathe at us but there also some who are not serious and just want to get our attention, or leave behind a comment. At times their comment could be hilarious as well. This is the group that we can win over, " he explained.
What is important for Syaiful Arief is that there has to be 'likes', 'comments', dan 'share' on the content uploaded by the party or its leaders to create a greater visibility of the party and its leaders over the social media realm.
So what is important now for UMNO is to plan on how to win over the people's hearts or at least create a soft spot in the hearts of the people for UMNO.
On the social media platforms that will be in the forefront during the GE14, Syafiq was confident that Facebook would serve as the best ground to carry out election campaigns unlike applications like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.
"Facebook today is the place where people share content. Facebook is also political campaign friendly as long articles, photos, graphics, video, can be shared through one click along with the, ?live video', ?opinion poll' and FB Ads that provide an enriching experience. This is the medium to carry out effective campaigns, " he explained.
For readers information, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent about USD 81 million for the 2016 presidential campaign through Facebook.
PROMOTING UMNO THROUGH FACEBOOK
Speaking of Facebook, it is the medium that the Kampung Baru Seberang Takir, Kuala Terengganu, Umno branch committee member, Norrismurizal Muslim, 34, is using to promote the party.
"I am a strong supporter of Umno and the Barisan Nasional and have been using my private Facebook account to highlight the good things UMNO has done
"if you are uncomfortable ladies and gentlemen please forgive me, ladies and gentlemen you can 'remove' me but I will be your Facebook friend forever, " this is what he has stated on his Facebook wall.
Since 2009 he has been using his Facebook account to help UMNO shed light over many of the allegations levelled at the party and its leaders by the opposition. Though the pro-opposition netizens had criticised him but he avoided antagonising them and continues sharing information with them.
He believes in countering the ?black ops' by the opposition with the ?white propaganda' by highlighting the many good deeds of the party and the government.
"Netizens like real facts, facts that are not twisted. Normally I will publish the e-banner on the local leaders. As time went by I had more friends and followers. This is the clearest indication my strategy worked, " he said.