Colin Charles Agenda

Cyberwar for politicians: Overview of Tun Faisal’s statements

I read this and was really angry. Then I realised a David Arquette (by way of Buddhism) quote: “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” If the opposition can use new media, I guess so can the incumbents. Anyway, let’s decompose the statements as reported in the article…

KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — In mid-2009, Umno Youth held a course in online media for its grassroots leaders in Kuantan. The names of a few prominent bloggers drew blank stares.

“Only 10 per cent (of those present) were familiar with those names,” the youth wing’s new media chief, Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz, told The Malaysian Insider. “Some didn’t even have email.”

Statement seems incoherent. They held a course about online media for their grassroots leaders in Kuantan, and they didn’t know about popular bloggers. In fact I don’t really care about popular bloggers – most of them have their own take, spin it ways they feel like it, and don’t understand what journalism is, i.e. reporting the facts. I get my newsfeed from The Star (News->Nation), The Malaysian Insider, and Malaysiakini. A mix of that helps keep me informed.

Some didn’t have email? Well this is the UMNO problem. Postmen run as members of parliament. I could probably run with more examples, but I don’t have hard facts to back them up, and I hate hearsay. The opposition tend to be professionals, which is why I prefer them (truth be told, I’d probably vote an ape in as well, just for shits and giggles).

Who is Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz? According to his Facebook profile, he is the Special Officer to the Home Minister at the Ministry of Home Affairs. So he advises kris-waving Hishammudin. Its also clear he has a media unit that he’s heading with UMNO Youth – the cybertroopers.

The media unit that Tun Faisal heads, formed after accepting that “80 to 90 per cent” of those online were anti-Barisan Nasional (BN) in the landmark Election 2008, now claims that despite having to catch up to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the “cyberwar” for the hearts and minds of young and urban voters, it is now ready for a general election expected within the year.

80-90% online are anti-BN? As of June 2009, the stats show there are 16,902,600 Internet users in Malaysia. Thats some 65% of the population of a little over 26 million people. In fact, rough stats show that Malaysia has 11,303,040 Facebook users, which covers some 43% of the population and some 67% of the online population of Malaysia.

Key points to note: Malaysians that are online, not all can vote. And these statistics are misleading — counting mobile phone users possibly, people with multiple Internet accounts, etc. Don’t forget a lot are Malaysians living overseas, either as students or residents whom are looking for greener pastures.

However, Tun Faisal, a member of the Umno Youth executive committee, believes that despite having guns primed, the unit needs the government to provide it with bullets.

Bullets. Is this cash? Is this information? Considering the information sucks to begin with, one can only presume its cash to pay cybertroopers.

“Most young and urban voters perceive the mainstream media as pro-government, so they are automatically prejudiced against it,” said Faisal. “So we have to bring the debate online.

The mainstream media is pro-government. The recent Bersih 2.0 rallies show that. In fact, its not just young voters that have such a perception. Its the adults too. Admittedly my sample-size is urbanites, and the opposition clearly needs to figure out how to get the word out to non-urbanites. Years of misinformation from the Ministry of Truth (aka Home+Information ministries) has generally made everyone not believe mainstream media.

Bringing the debate online is a good thing. Why? Two sides of the coin. Comments, people responding in the open, etc. If people are willing to get the “bigger picture”, they can. Is the public ready for this though? Not many people spend time getting more information. They take things at face value.

“But the problem is getting info from the government to counter the lies from the opposition. How can we fight claims from them and journalists when we don’t have more info than them?” he said.

I’m sorry. How can any one party have more information about the ruling party? Freedom of information bitches! This centralised distribution of information (that the mainstream media has continually executed) is what people do not want! People want free & fair reporting. All journalists present, representing facts. Not opinions. Not lies. Not spin.

BN had its nose bloodied at the 12th General Election in urban centres such as the Klang Valley and Penang, ceding its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament as the opposition took a record 82 seats and, at the same time, five state governments.

But the Manek Urai by-election in Kelantan, where BN surprisingly came within 65 votes of wresting the state seat, is considered a turning point for Umno Youth in the online battle.

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin had said that BN gained in all young voter streams, signalling a shift in young voters that was said to have backed PR heavily in 2008.

“BN gained in all young voter streams, signaling a shift in young voters”. Please continue to believe that Khairy. Believing in this would then lead to complacency, which would then lead to loss. Say it, don’t believe it. Don’t believe it until you’ve bagged your 2/3rds or decimated the opposition.

“The opposition started in 1999 after Reformasi,” Tun Faisal said. “We only started in 2009. It’s like putting university students against primary schoolkids.

Please believe that Tun Faisal. There were blogs in 1999, yes? Facebook was around in 1999? So was Twitter, right? In 1999, there were mailing lists and static websites. The BN figured they controlled the mainstream media and did not need to participate. But I’m glad Tun Faisal compared himself to a primary schoolkid — his statements reflect just that. In fact, my beautiful four-year-old cousin has more intelligent thoughts than him.

“But if you look at the results since Manek Urai, you can see that BN has definitely caught up especially with young voters.”

BN has since reversed a losing streak in by-elections, and even though PR was confident of making extensive gains in the recent Sarawak state election, BN retained its two-thirds majority in the assembly.

Tun Faisal says that one of the main factors is that his new media unit was given the mandate to strategise and coordinate online communications during these local polls.

Key takeaway? The Ministry of Truth is now not only focusing on mainstream media (radio, TV, newspapers) but also focusing on providing disinformation online. With the appropriate “bullets”, they will try very hard at spending it all on misinforming folk. Be it paying cybertroopers. Advertising. The list can go on.

“After 13 by-elections and one state election, I think we are ready to lead BN online in the next general election. But the leadership needs to have faith in us,” he said.

He revealed that in 2004, he led an Umno Youth cybertroopers unit into federal polls, at which BN claimed over 90 per cent of Parliament. But the ruling coalition’s best showing ever was followed by its worst in 2008.

“The difference was in 2004, we had a direct link to the prime minister’s department,” Tun Faisal said. “In 2008, we were left behind by the opposition, and even some pro-Umno blogs were against us.

Cybertroopers are like bloggers that write advertorials. The moment they write enough rubbish, people stop listening. That’s free advice for politicians on either side. People believe in passion. You can’t buy passion. You might brainwash someone into believing they are passionate, but eventually they will sound like a drone. A robot. And you lose your voice.

“Over 70 per cent of the issues that BN has to answer is related to government. It is unfair for BN leaders to expect party machinery to answer them unless government opens up to us,” he said.

Why isn’t the government open to the people? The rakyat? Opening up to cybertroopers is the wrong move. You’re either open or you’re not. There’s no middle ground.

With Malaysians increasingly being found online — 11.3 million on Facebook as at the end of last month — and Malay and English print circulation dropping, Umno Youth sees a return to 2004 as crucial, a belief shared by Umno vice president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi last month.

Circulation drops. Why? Mainstream newspapers are really only good for wrapping up packets of nasi lemak. Or collecting dog poop for proper disposal. I can already see where the bullets (money) is going to be spent next. Facebook is going to make a lot from the current ruling party in Malaysia.

“Our target by the next election is that all division youth chiefs are on Twitter and every state have their own cyberwar team,” said Tun Faisal.

One wonders why? Every youth chief is on Twitter, yet they quote a Facebook stat above. The usage of Facebook outperforms the usage of Twitter by probably a magnitude of 10x. Tun Faisal is on Twitter, and has a blog.

What is interesting is that every state will have their own cyberwar team. Funded by bullets. How will the opposition deal with this?

I’m excited to see the fight taken online. At the same time, I wonder how fair the fight online will be. Money can buy you leverage in this Web 2.0 world. Maybe the opposition just needs to get really creative.