Elections and the social media fallacy

NOBODY can deny the importance of social media (particularly Facebook) for political campaigns in the country. However, I am quite concerned about ‘deceptions’ created on some Facebook pages which could lead to people getting the wrong perception about current political sentiments.

I am not talking about wrong information, fake news or slander, rather it is the slant given to articles or postings that may influence peoples perceptions.

I remember a few months before the 13th General Election (GE13) in 2013 almost all postings and comments on Facebook were critical of the ruling party.

Postings from government-linked mass media (such as TV3 and Utusan Malaysia) on Facebook received sacarstic, sometimes hateful replies.

The anti-Najib, anti-Umno and anti-BN sentiments were so strong that most people were led to believe that the main opposition slogan of ‘Ini Kalilah’ (‘This time we can topple the current government’) would materialise.

I remember I spent several hours reading the political postings and comments a week before GE13, and I can say nine out of 10 Facebook users were hardcore opposition members willing to swear that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would no longer be in power.

If I had speculated on the outcome of GE13 based on what had been portrayed on Facebook, I would have said there was no way for Najib and the BN government to survive then.

Well, we later found out that the results for the ruling party were not as bad as what most Facebook users had hoped for. The MCA and Gerakan parliamentary seats fell into opposition control but Umno itself managed to get back some of the seats they had lost in GE12.

Facebook users suddenly woke up from their ‘trance’ and admitted the losses even though some of them were still delusional and declared that popularity votes should have been considered in the legitimacy of any new government being formed.

That was the story of GE13. Now we are facing GE14. Today I can see some hardcore BN supporters waging political cyber war on Facebook. But hardcore opposition supporters (from all races) seem to be dominant.

Now, if anybody conducts a social media poll, asking the question; “Who Do You Want To Be Our Prime Minister? A: Najib, B: Tun M,” I believe Tun M will emerge as a clear winner. But, will that really translate into the actual result of GE14? I doubt it.

Those who are critical of Najib’s administration tend to be more vocal and more likely to express their opinion (or their hatred) through social media such as Facebook.

They are willing to spend a few hours of their time to debate with pro-government supporters because they believe by doing so, they can influence the thinking of the pro-government group.

They make it out as if it’s a personal crusade to fight for what they perceive as ‘justice’ in our political system. That is why their ‘voices’ in social media seem to be dominant.

In the end, when they cast their votes, they can only cast one vote for the parliamentary seat and one vote for the state seat (if they do not live in the Federal Territory).

Some Umno or BN supporters that I personally know, do not bother about the political talk on Facebook. They continue with life as usual, posting photos of their cats, dishes they prepared for their husbands, or other insignificant details of their daily routines.

They do not bother to engage with political debates or attempt to influence the voting decisions of others. They just know on May 9, they will have to fulfil their voting obligations and we need not guess which party they will vote for.

These are the people who will give Najib victory in GE14, as they gave him the election victory in the last GE13.

I have learned from the GE13 experience to not entirely believe the sentiments portrayed on Facebook. These do not represent actual voting patterns and should not be used as a basis for speculation of election outcomes.

It is just a ‘social media fallacy’.