What can we learn about social media influence in the Malaysian 14th General Election?
Social media as a new tool for political communication influences current developments in political campaigning. In combination with mainstream media, social media is increasingly used for purposes such as political marketing, mobilisation of voters, and public debate. This paper discusses how social media helped the Malaysian main opposition coalition, Alliance of Hope (PH), to topple the ruling party, National Front (BN), which had ruled Malaysia for the last 61 years. Literature on new media rarely shows positive relationships between new media usage and voting decisions. At most, social media plays a crucial role in extending the dissemination of information to voters. However, PH had to rely solely on social media for their political marketing in reaching out to both urban and rural constituencies, as the coalition was denied access to the government-controlled mainstream media. With data-based information, PH was able to segment voters and focus on marginalised constituencies, young voters, middle-class urban voters, and rural constituencies, which were the ruling party’s main fortress, contributing to 57% of the vote. One of the misconceptions many politicians and political parties have is that merely using social media will win them the election. Ultimately, what mattered more in this case was whether political parties could register the currents of change percolating within an evolving Malaysian society and address voter grievances accordingly, something that BN, even with control over mainstream media and superior usage of social media, did not do.
Keywords: social media, language in social media, political marketing, voters’ segmentation, media effect, Malaysian election
Published online: 06 August 2019
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