Report: Gaming Hate | Social Media Accountability in the 15th Malaysia Election

Background:

The 15th Malaysia General Election (GE15) was held on November 19th, 2022. It was an election that happened after a period of political crisis in the country following the fall of the government of Mahathir Mohamad in 2020. The collapse of the government at the time was a result of the race-based politics that is deeply rooted in the country. Mahathir’s government, led by Pakatan Harapan, has been considered as the most progressive political coalition compared to other coalitions in the country. However, due to the coalition that is comprised of Democratic Action Party (DAP), a political party that is mainly led by ethnic Chinese Malaysians, other political parties feared that they were going to lose support from the Malays, the majority population in Malaysia. Those parties then decided to withdraw from the government causing it to collapse.

In 2022, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, then prime minister from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) dissolved the parliament on October 10, 2022 and called for a snap election. The situation was notable as GE15 was mainly a race between the three major political coalitions which are Barisan Nasional (BN), Pakatan Harapan (PH), and Perikatan Nasional (PN). BN, which UMNO is part of, had been a ruling coalition for over 60 years since the time it was known as the Alliance Party. PN is a new political coalition that was formed following the collapse of the Mahathir’s government in 2020 headed by Muhyiddin Yassin, a former deputy president of UMNO. Meanwhile, in GE15, PH has been led by Anwar Ibrahim, a well-known political figure, as a chairperson following Mahathir’s departure in 2020.

The election resulted in PH gained the most seats as a coalition, while PN came second. What is notable is the rise of the hardline Muslim party, Malaysian Islamic Party or PAS from its Jawi-based acronym. The party, which is part of PN, became a political party that gained the most votes in the 2022 election. As it never happened before in the previous elections, the situation is a shift in the Malaysian politics. BN, after its long years of being in power, has been plagued with corruption scandals. PH, has been seen as a threat by conservative Muslim Malays, due to its composition that includes DAP and their ideology that is feared to destroy the Malay privileges that is controversially enshrined in the country’s constitution. The rise of PN and PAS was seen to be because of these factors as they were the best alternative compared to the other two coalitions for the Malay majority.

Findings:

As the research observed how social media platforms were weaponized during GE15, it was founded PN and PAS disseminated many narratives that are disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech. PH was also their main target. In the findings, the narratives were categorized into three groups which are:

  • 1. Narratives that attack political opponents
  • 2. Narratives that incite violence
  • 3. Narratives that are related to election procedures
  •  

In the research, four platforms were examined which are Facebook, Twitter (at the time), YouTube, and TikTok. It was found that TikTok had played a significant role in the GE15, while other platforms are also used to disseminate problematic narratives to a various degree as well.

Social media platforms’ accountability was found to fall short on many areas as a result. Compared to the efforts that they announced before GE15 happened, it was found that the platforms could not keep up with the dynamics of the problematic narratives, their partnership with official government agencies including the election commission was insufficient, their political ads policies were used to promote the problematic narratives, and that their initiatives to tackle disinformation and misinformation are still a question of what they aim to achieve.

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