Just another point of view – 7 July 2018

BY now history would have marked May 9, 2018 as the day that Malaysians throughout the land decided to change a government that has ruled over the nation for 61 years in Malaya and 55 years in Sarawak and Sabah.

But another date which no one had placed any significance on was Feb 19, 2014 – the day that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook bought over WhatsApp for a record US$19 billion!

Why was this date so important you ask?

In my humble opinion, the revolt at the polling stations started about two years prior to May 9; around the time that the voting population of Malaysia first heard of and were widely informed of the debacle now known simply as ‘1MDB’ and the role that Najib Razak, Jho Lo, and the Umno ruling party had all been a part of.

Without the trinity happenstance of WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube, working together in tandem with their conduit, the smartphone, there could never have been a ‘Malaysian Spring’. This trinity came to fruition with the formidable spread of unfiltered, uncensored, and uncontrolled news, views, video clips and what-have-yous saturating the bandwidths of smartphones everywhere on a daily basis – or at least wherever and whenever their users could obtain conducive service networks.

All these soundbites and video clips were freely transmitted and shared between friends, families, and chat groups in chatrooms within minutes, hours and days to the most remote villages, kampungs, longhouses, and suburban homes throughout the length and breadth of Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak. All that were needed were a smartphone, network signal, and lasting battery life.

The biggest difference between the general election of 2013 and the 14th GE of May 9 was the pervasiveness and the use (as well as misuse?) of the humble, simple, and always-by-your-side smartphone – the ultimate conduit for modern day mass communication. It is now a truly global village beyond Marshall McLachlan’s wildest dreams!

During the last general election – the 13th – held in 2013, there were only about 10 million smartphone users in Malaysia with a total penetration rate of 63 per cent of the total population. Compare this to GE14 this year, when penetration has risen to 75.9 per cent with 19.9 million users – almost doubling in numbers within only five years.

Never in the history of mankind have we seen such a phenomenal growth in the way we communicate – the power of this innocent looking device – a gadget with the power to persuade, influence, and possibly even brainwash?

A device we wield and shield, something we deem so inseparable and feel quite lost without, aided by its compact size, weight, and compactness. It’s even smaller than a bar of chocolate (and slimmer too), sleeker than a notebook, longer lasting, and getting more hardy than ever. As long as one can get obtain a service signal, one virtually holds all the information that the world can offer in the palm of one’s hand.

Five years ago, in 2013, during the 13th general election, WhatsApp was just another infant application for users to communicate, a la Skype, Facetime, Google+. (WhatsApp was founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees of Yahoo!) Five years later it was sold to Mark Zuckerberg and it became part of the Facebook family. The rest, as they say, is history.

The dual power of Facebook, the world’s leading social media platform, which now has 2.19 billion active users worldwide, and WhatsApp, the fastest growing communication format – with more than 1.5 billion active users daily –only needed a third force to complete the ultimate triumvirate.

That third force came in the form of YouTube.

YouTube is a video hosting service founded in California in 2005, and today has 1.57 billion active users, with 300 hours’ worth of video content uploaded every single day. You simply make your own video clip on your smartphone and upload it to share to the world. All this can be done within minutes.

YouTube has singlehandedly gotten rid of the need for any translation, interpretation or censorship, and allows any Tom, Dick and Harry with a smartphone to create and share his personal, political, religious, sexual, and whatever opinion with the world. All of it recorded on video, audio, or a combination of both. Never have we witnessed such ease in man’s freedom to express himself.

In the old days of our election campaigning, the powerful incumbent government had all the tools of reaching out to the voters within their grasp and the motto of ‘cash is king’ had prevailed – everything cost money, from transporting the candidate by road, river, air; to printing posters, banners and leaflets; feeding and lodging supporters and so on and so forth. Often loaded with padded envelopes stuffed with cash, boxes full of booze and tables loaded with food and other goodies; blue coloured water tanks, tinned roofing materials, outboard motor engines and whatsoever the voter demanded for … all the trimmings and ‘donations’ of buying the voters’ support – anything and everything was catered to and were given.

Most of what happened still happened. But there was a difference this time around – a new element that no one had counted on or had even thought was possible: there was no premonition of it; no political analyst had written about it. Most of the so-called experts, who were very experienced and had gone through and had analysed so many past GEs since 1963, a great many of whom had predicted quite accurately too.

GE14 was the first time that this trinity of WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube had unknowingly sneaked in to overturn the tables of political stability.

For every cash handout given to a voter, there was the counterpoint of a remembered visual and/or a recording of someone who had filmed or recorded a speech – unfiltered, uncensored, and unvarnished of what was actually happening or had occurred down the winding corridors of power – be it in Putrajaya or Petra Jaya.

For every blue water tank given, for every campaign speech made at the kampung or longhouse or town hall, there was this quick recall in the voter’s mind’s eye of what he had seen, heard, or read on his WhatsApp chat group or on his Facebook newsfeed and timeline: all in his own language, no translation required.

Over the past two or three years that he has been exposed to all this on a regular basis, he has either come to trust this new source of ‘the real news’ or at least given it the benefit of the doubt.

For once in his life, for the very first time in a general election, he has been able to source the news as it is – uncompromised and not just bias government propaganda. There is immense power in that – because suddenly there is magic in the air.

So on May 9, as he had waited for his turn to mark X on the spot on his personal ballot paper, for the very first time in his entire voting life, he had crossed for his candidate with a total freedom of choice.

He was … free at last.

Edgar Ong’s early career spanned four decades working with international conglomerates from the UK (Inchcape), Japan (Toyota), and Germany (BMW), both in the import/export and motor business. He had an early start in a now defunct English daily as a columnist when he was only 16 and still in school, culminating in a brief spell as a reporter.

His personal enterprise took him into the world of real estate, writing, editing and film production services, all of which he is still actively involved. An early user and proponent of social media, he presently administers a widely followed public forum on Facebook called Sarawak Public Feedback. He likes to be known as a social activist. However, his friends like to tag him as an ‘influencer’.

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