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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Anger and frustrations through hashtags

 


Malaysians, generally, are a patient lot.

While public assemblies have been normalised by the many Bersih assemblies throughout the past decade, Malaysians are not the sort that will easily go to the streets to protest.

Sixty-odd years of BN winning the elections have shown that when it comes to governments, we are willing to tolerate a lot of negative traits of the powers that be. It took the GST, 1MDB and united opposition to topple BN in 2018 from Putrajaya.

Malaysians have not resorted to the streets, yet. But as someone who has been observing Malaysian social media for more than a decade, I have not seen this much public display of anger and resentment from people.

Last year, the hashtag #MuhyiddinOut trended on social media platform Twitter. Earlier this year, #KerajaanGagal (‘Failed Government’) trended, a moniker that has stuck with this government since. #KerajaanGagal trended regularly, every time the Government incurs the wrath of netizens since it first gained prominence.

A day before the rulers’ special meeting on June 16, #KerajaanGagal and #KerajaanBodoh (‘Stupid Government’) trended. This was after the prime minister unveiled the government’s National Recovery Plan, which was greeted with a resounding thumbs down from many netizens.

The anger at that time was palpable. But the people were not done. Last Saturday, #KerajaanBangsat (‘Evil Government’) trended and reached more than 26,000 tweets. A day after that, #KerajaanPembunuh (‘Murderer Government’) trended as well, reaching about 10,000 tweets.

In the space of less than a year, the government has been assaulted with various slurs and insults, a reflection of the rising public anger mostly with its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

In my years of being a social media observer, I have never quite seen this sort of anger being expressed to the government. Labels such as ‘bodoh’, ‘bangsat’ and ‘pembunuh’ do not get banded about lightly as they carry a very negative stigma, especially in Bahasa Melayu.

Of course, many may want to argue that Twitter is not reflective of the realities on the ground. While this may be true most of the time, the reality is much worse. Twitter is the outlet of these frustrations, expressions of those who have also been hit by the pandemic but with enough means to make their voices heard.

A check with other social media platforms such as Facebook, which are generally more sympathetic to the government also showed that the anger and frustration are consistent with that on Twitter. Proof of this can be found in Facebook pages of news portals as well as government ministries and agencies, where Malaysians vented their feelings in the comments section.

TikTok and Clubhouse, the newest social media platforms which are slowly gaining prominence are also hotbeds of anti-government sentiments.

Based on social media, the well-known patience of Malaysians appears to be wearing thin.

It was all very different for the prime minister and the cabinet at the start of their tenure. The prime minister enjoyed wide general support, and the Government was credited with dealing with the pandemic. 

The Prihatin economic package announced during the first movement control order (MCO) brought about a feel-good factor that the government rode on for a number of months.

Much of that goodwill has dissipated. Even the National People's Well-Being and Economic Recovery Package (Pemulih) was met with a lukewarm reception. To a lot of people, it was too little, too late and too slow.

Of course, trending hashtags do not change the government. Trending hashtags may move the government to do certain things, but only if they have the political will to do so.

But trending hashtags are a reflection of the rakyat’s sentiments. Maybe not for the whole country, maybe just for a certain segment of the nation’s demographic.

But we have seen how governments can fall because of social media. If this government continues to ignore the people’s expressions, they may find that the people may not give them another chance when it is time to seek a mandate. - Mkini


SYAHREDZAN JOHAN is a civil liberties lawyer and political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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