Thursday, October 02, 2008

Losing by default

Cyberspace Losing by default
Only 15% of (peninsula) Malaysian government MPs have their own blogs; the figure for opposition is 75%, many freshly updated. By Ong Kian Ming.Sep 27, 2008

malaysiakini (excerpts)(---)
Six months after the March elections, how much have the BN representatives responded to the call to set up their own blog sites? Not much, apparently.
Of the 85 BN MPs in Peninsular Malaysia, only 13 of them currently have their own blogs (15%). In contrast, 59 out of the 79 opposition MPs (Ibrahim Ali, who is an independent, is excluded as are East Malaysian MPs because blogs are not so important there), or almost three quarters have their own blogs.

Of course, having a blog does not mean that these blogs have a wide reach or even that they are regularly updated. Some of these blogs were set up just prior to the March general election and have not much updated since...BN's online absence means that it does not have an effective and credible means of 'neutralising' the online news bias against it.

In cyberspace, if a politician does not have an identity or branding, someone else will do the branding for him or her. In this case, that 'someone' usually goes by the name 'Google'.
A simple exercise illustrates this. If one did not know much about Jamaluddin Jarjis, the former minister of science, technology and innovation and current MP of Rompin, a 'Google' search will reveal him as the minister who made racist remarks against an Indian student while in the US and the minister who was accused of groping a promoter at a nightclub in KL.

In the past, the BN could rely on a pliant media not to report any offensive remarks that may have been made 'accidentally' by a BN politician. Now, it is likely that such remarks would likely be picked up by an online newspaper such as Malaysiakini or an observant blogger. Once such news gets onto cyberspace, the fallout is almost instantaneous.

Bloggers will follow up with negative posts criticising the politician in question which will then lead on to more posts and more negative reactions. The effect is multiplicative which explains why most Google searches associated with BN politicians almost lead to negative blog posts.
Google's algorithms automatically take note of the sites which registers the most links in relation to certain politicians in question and these links are usually related to something foolish that a politician has said or done rather than something associated with his or her ministerial responsibilities.

What money can't buy

The BN is not used to playing the role of the underdog in the political sphere. But it is clearly outmanned and outgunned in cyberspace. The number of blogs which can be categorised as anti-BN or anti-establishment significantly outnumber the blogs which are supportive of the BN.This is especially evident among the Malaysian Alpha-bloggers including RPK, Rocky's Bru and Jeff Ooi.

An examination of the blogroll of most of the social-political bloggers finds the usual suspects, most of whom are anti-establishment. In fact, it is hard to name a respected blogger who can be categorised as pro-BN.The BN cannot overcome this disadvantage in cyberspace by throwing money at the problem. The BN cannot bribe or buy its way into cyberspace.

One of the main reasons why the number of anti-BN bloggers vastly outnumber pro-BN bloggers is that blogging is an activity which requires a lot of personal commitment and passion.
The bloggers who gain recognition have done so because of their willingness to share their honest views on the issues of the day on a regular basis.Pro-BN supporters, perhaps more concerned with contracts and political positions, are not similarly motivated.

But even if the BN could pay a whole army of bloggers to set up pro-BN blogs, they would be facing an uphill task to convince the already skeptical reading public of their credibility...
Kit Siang, the Internet trailblazerThat cyberspace has an anti-BN bias is partly the BN's own making. The strict controls on mainstream media drove the public to alternative news sources online and for the more motivated, to create blogs as channels to vent their anti-BN views.

The same strict controls are also responsible for driving opposition MPs to the blogosphere and cyberspace. Perhaps no opposition politician has embraced cyberspace more than Lim Kit Siang. He wrote about IT issues as early as the mid 1990s.He was one of the few politicians who uploaded his press releases on his own personal website. He was one of the key drivers in continuously upgrading DAP's website, publishing the press statements of its MPs and Aduns on its website and also encouraging its representatives to start blogs of their own.One could say that Kit Siang was made for the Internet age despite his age. He is probably one of the few senior politicians who still does his own online research and is probably a voracious consumer of online news.

In contrast, no BN senior leader can claim to have the same kind of Internet presence or traffic. It remains to be seen if Najib's recently launched website, (, will get the same kind of attention which Dr M's blog receives. Without fresh and honest content, it might prove to be a short-lived phenomenon.

But some BN politicians do 'get it'

It would not be fair to place all BN politicians in the same broad basket. Some of them have quickly jumped onto the blog bandwagon perhaps none more so than Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, the former Selangor menteri besar.He was one of the first BN leaders to start his own blog after the disastrous election results in his own state (

He finds himself in the unfamiliar territory of being the leader of the opposition. His blog has quickly found traction among those Umno supporters who are unhappy with Pak Lah's administration.Perhaps the most hated person in the Malaysian blogosphere, Khairy Jamaluddin, also has his own website ( ,which was started just before the March general elections....

But both of them were superseded by Shahrir Samad. Long known as one of the more outspoken leaders within Umno, Shahrir started blogging when he was in political 'exile'. His then office in Sri Hartamas was emblazoned with the sign 'Shahrir-Umno' and his 'experience' on the Internet probably explains why he currently runs four websites, two of which are regularly updated.

Not all of Umno's forays into the blogosphere have been successful. Ali Rustam is probably Umno's only blogging menteri besar ( but he quickly found that cyberspace can be a very unforgiving place when a post criticising the Selangor Pakatan government for allowing a pig farm project approved by the outgoing BN government to go on was quickly inundated with negative comments.

He has since disabled comments from his blog, one of the sure-fire ways to decrease readership.
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah's foray into the blogosphere has also been uncertain. It is not clear that the one blog dedicated to Ku Li's activities ( is actually run by him. It comprises mostly of other blog posts about Ku Li and some news items covering his activities.

While it has received over 600,000 hits, there are very few comments following each post.
Ku Li would generate much more traffic and attention to himself if he took a page out of Dr Mahathir's playbook by posting some entries actually written by himself instead of relying purely on secondary sources.

(By Ong Kian Ming, a PhD candidate in political science at Duke University.)
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