JAKARTA — When Mahathir Mohamad’s Alliance of Hope coalition surprised the world — and perhaps even themselves — by winning last May’s parliamentary vote in Malaysia, it was not just the first-ever opposition election win in the country’s history. Some saw it as the result of the first “WhatsApp election,” where the platform’s encrypted private messaging provided a sanctuary for citizens to discuss politics away from the raucous finger-pointing of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. WhatsApp “offered security in that messages would come from ‘trusted’ contacts and thus be more ‘believable'” than open services such as Facebook or Twitter, said Serina Abdul Rahman, whose election research for the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusok Ishak Institute took her to rural areas in the south and north of Malaysia. Apprehension over commenting publicly was likely heightened by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s anti-fake news law, which was announced ahead of the elections. Some saw the law as a tool for Najib to avoid public discussion of corruption allegations related to the scandal-riddled sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB.
JAKARTA — The region’s jarring social media jousting means that platforms such as Twitter are not really “social” anymore, but have become “weaponized” according to Indonesian political analyst Wimar Witoelar, who has 439,000 Twitter followers. “So interaction is more often divisive than not. You cannot form a consensus. Instead you sharpen your differences,” he said via WhatsApp. Even Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, is not immune to savaging on social media, taking to Facebook in September to make his point. “I was asked, ‘President Jokowi, how is the state of social media in Indonesia?’, I replied, ‘In Indonesia, it can get very vicious,” he posted.
MANILA — Four years after a colossal Pacific Ocean storm battered the city of Tacloban in central Philippines, Jerby Santo remembered how as one of around 10 million Philippine expatriates, he was waiting anxiously for news of Typhoon Haiyan making landfall at his home town. Even though the Philippines often bears the brunt of storms veering off the southern Pacific, Haiyan had prompted an unusual level of uneasiness. “I was in Phnom Penh on the eve of the storm, the internet was abuzz, what was going to happen?” he recalled, speaking at a commemorative event organized by the Newton Tech4Dev Network and De La Salle University in Manila on Nov. 9. The biggest damage of the hurricane was caused by a storm surge, a wall of seawater like a tsunami that swept inland, quickly flooding ground levels before people could escape.
JAKARTA – Widodo has come under fire in social media for aspects of his presidency so far, with critics and supporters alike lambasting his perceived indecision after Indonesia’s unloved national police filed charges against leaders of the country’s popular Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which had branded Widodo’s nominee for new police chief a corruption suspect. Widodo’s electoral success had partly been down to his own clean image and his anti-graft rhetoric, so it is little wonder, perhaps, that Widodo has kept his own fingers off the “send” button as millions of Indonesians weigh in, often using hashtags such as #SaveKPK and #Shameonyoujokowi.
BANGALORE – The Indian Government has gone on the offensive against internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter after political unrest in various parts of the country, demanding hundreds of pages be removed or blocked. On August 15th, India’s independence day, Indian northeasterners began fleeing Bangalore, the country’s southern IT hub and 5th largest city, after a series of widely-disseminated text messages threatening Assamese and other ethnic groups from the northeast of the country. Attempting to stop bulk messaging, authorities restricted text messages to five recipients. On the platform at Bangalore train station were hundreds of people from Assam state and other areas of India’s northeast, a remote part of the country almost 2000 miles away. The region is mostly surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Burma and is linked to the rest of India only by a narrow strip of land nicknamed the chicken-neck.