Wednesday, July 8

The voice of the silent majority?

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JAN 19 marked the fourth anniversary of a public page that I started on Facebook called Sarawak Public Feedback. It began life as Kuching Flood Feedback, during the devastating floods of early 2015, when I had realised that there was no public forum for people who were either caught in, affected by, or had needed help and assistance due to flooding throughout rural and urban Sarawak.

I would say the forum was rather successful as it garnered over a few thousand members within a very short period of time, as ‘Facebookers’ everywhere contributed by posting, commenting, and spreading the word – and we all did our small part in helping elevate the distress and dire situations that many flood victims were caught in.

By about early March when the flooding had subsided, I put up a notice to say that as we had seen the worst of it, I wanted to close down the page.

The response to this was quite astonishing. Members pleaded with me to retain the public feedback forum as an avenue for them to post, comment, and suggest for public interest and welfare; and to extent the subject went from just flooding to other public issues at large – issues that they wanted to suggest or grouse about. Up to that point in time, there was no other public forum quite like Kuching Flood Feedback.

Sure there were the government linked sites, of which Talikhidmat was one, and many others belonging to councils and government departments as well as to political parties, support organisations, etc. But they were often not regularly updated, their administrators appeared rather slow to respond, and not many people were using them – it’s like that old proverbial chicken and egg issue – if only a few people use them, not much importance is placed on them, and not many staff will be allocated to administer and update them: these webpages, and other social media pages and forums.

So I took up the challenge and renamed the forum Sarawak Public Feedback. I also set out that the forum’s objective was to cater to all – this was the original mission which is still in the statement page:

“… other disasters like drought, haze, and any other natural or man-made disaster. We  also allow posts that concern our closest neighbouring countries – Sabah, Kalimantan Borneo, Brunei and Singapore insofar as they may affect Sarawakians at large.

“Politics and issues of socio-economic and human interests are also welcomed. When posting news or photos please ensure that your privacy settings are set at PUBLIC. Also indicate time and location. You can post old photos as well but please say so.”

As at Jan 31, 2019, the Sarawak Public Feedback forum on Facebook has 50,123 members. There are on average 4,452 posts every 28 days (FB’s standard for a month), and there are 29,585 active members, which is a rather high 59 per cent for such a forum. Surprisingly too during FB’s recent purge of fake members on such forums like ours, we only lost over 1,500 members out of 50,000. So for the time being, it would appear on paper that the rest are genuine, although a few snowflakes may still be lurking around. Cyber-troopers from both sides of the political divide we have no doubt of that.

Although the forum says ‘Sarawak’, we have members from all the different states, but Malaysians account for 88 per cent of the total; of which males account for 59 per cent and females 41 per cent. We also have members from other countries, in order of numbers –Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Australia, Cambodia, Brunei, Bangladesh and USA, plus smaller countries.

The demographics are interesting: 52 per cent are from the age group 25 to 54, of which a further breakdown shows 25 to 34 (21 per cent), 35 to 44 (16 per cent), 18 to 24 (8 per cent), and 45 to 54 (7 per cent). What marketing companies would call the group which interests them most! (This group still in the workforce with high spending power and are actively purchasing their fast moving consumer goods.)

I would also call them the ‘silent majority’.

I have noticed that the posts which garner a lot of interest, comments, and excited debate usually surround politics, topics of the day, socioeconomic issues, personalities, disasters, and entertainment.

Members are very vocal, very committed to their causes and interests, and independent minded when it comes to politics. They are well-versed in the best places to travel to, buy their groceries, eat at their favourite hawker stalls, and willing to try out anything new and interesting. They usually don’t mince their words with happy ecstatic reviews of good eateries or new discoveries but are quick to jump on anything they see or feel are rip-offs, bad deals, or con-jobs.

Their politics are dynamic!

They can love some politician today only to slam down hard on him a week later if they feel he has taken the wrong step, move or spoken words not music to their ears. Their allegiance, although unwavering towards a cause or a principle, can be swayed if they feel they have been betrayed. But yet, they can and will listen to reason and to what both sides of the political divide have to bring to the table.

In administrating this Facebook page on my own since Day 1, I have often been asked if it wasn’t too much for one person; indeed I have been offered help and assistance from both sides of the political divide to ‘share the responsibility’ of Admin. I have declined. I am happy to do it as a one man show, as I feel no two persons can ever share a common ideal, and I still do it for the love of it. I have also been asked why I have not monetised the forum, as in taking in FB adverts or local inserts from advertisers, etc. I feel that if I start doing that something will be lost – some sort of credibility would be eroded and once this happens it’d be extremely difficult to turn back the clock.

So here I am, still happily typing away, somewhat humbled to be able to give the ‘silent majority’ a forum for them to be heard.

Is anybody out there?

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]