CYBERTROOPERS from both sides of the political divide are gearing up for an internet war that is likely to intensify in the lead-up to the 14th general election.
Umno blogger Budak Sri Kinta told The Malaysian Insight the party uses thousands of keyboard warriors to attack or rebut the opposition as well as spread news favourable to Barisan Nasional (BN).
“Most of us are voluntary, of course, but there are some who are full time or part time. Anyone can be a keyboard warrior, as long as you know how to use social media,” he said.
He decided to become a full-time cybertrooper to help Umno win the war of perception on the internet after BN had lost its two-thirds majority in Dewan Rakyat and five out of 13 states in 2008.
Analysts have attributed the opposition’s strategic use of the internet and social mediato the political tsunami in 2008. In the following elections in 2013, BN also lost the popular vote.
An MCA member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the party must pay internet warriors or no one would bother to monitor the internet round the clock, especially during the elections to refute the opposition.
“The team has about 100 people. The articles they write are very professional, with privileged information ordinary people have no access to. The lower and middle-level cybertroopers make at least RM3,000 a month, it’s lucrative,” he said.
The grassroots would report to the leaders when they come across articles or comments detrimental to MCA or its leaders and respond in two ways, he said.
“If they cannot counter with arguments, they will use (negative) comparisons, such as who has done worse to deflect the focus or raise other issues to trigger netizens’ emotions.
“If it can be refuted, they will use the opposition’ss weaknesses against them or attack them to win (the debate).”
However, he said, MCA does not have as much financial resources as Umno, where a constituency receives up to RM1 million to hire cybertroopers while MCA only allocates several thousands.
Content is king
Former DAP leader Hew Kuan Yau said there is no need for the opposition to compete on monetary terms with BN as long as they can produce content with the elements of CIA – creative (C), intelligent (I) and contain solid arguments (A).
“Creativity is king. All DAP leaders lack resources and have to fork out their own money to promote their content on social media.
“Every ringgit they spend must be value for money and strategic. Every investment must have a return,” said the former DAP speaker, adding that as long as the content is creative, it would go viral quickly.
Perak DAP chairman Nga Kor Ming said the opposition must continue to use various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Weibo and WeChat, to counter BN’s cybertroopers.
“Ubah (in 2013 elections) was a very successful campaign but we cannot be complacent,” said Nga.
The party has a publicity team tasked with producing graphics and satirical short videos but the opposition would benefit if more citizens would use their smartphones to create their own content to spread the messages of democratic reforms.
Building own brands
Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang acknowledged that BN remains unpopular with the people and its leaders must rely on building their own personal brands.
“If a party is unpopular, you will not get attention regardless of whether your party is performing or not, and especially if the online promotion method is too conservative or boring.
“The campaigns have to be personalised as people knowing your party through you is more effective,” he said.
Gerakan lost Penang in 2008 and did not win any federal seat in 2013. Gerakan president Mah Siew Keong said attributed the loss partly to its failure to use social media to its advantage and counter fake news on the internet.
More than half of the population in Malaysia (55%) spend more than five hours on their smartphones, daily according to Counterpoint Research.
Jason Loo, an upcoming politician who is expected to stand as a Gerakan candidate at Pulau Tikus, Penang, said he relied on an active social media presence and regularly organising press conference to highlight issues in Penang to win the party’s attention.
“Gerakan gives me the freedom to speak on Facebook. Nobody knew me when I first started but now a lot of people know where I stand on issues. Young politicians should use social media to promote themselves and the party more.”