Tiktok influences polls in Malaysia, changes fortune of local party?

The global community is in a state of shock over the manner Tiktok, video sharing social networking service influenced polls in Malaysia. A global subsidiary of the Beijing-based social media company ByteDance, Tit Tokwas extensively used by political parties to influence the youth.The development has left political and diplomatic analysts extremely worried. However, questions are being raised over China’s intention to influence the political process in South east Asian country. Malaysia is home to a large Chinese diaspora and Chinese-language media landscape.

According to Nikkie Asia,TikTok has largely influenced Malaysian voters during the campaign and  pushed Islamic politics to the fore. A small local party has exerted such influence upon a federal election,thereby bringing about a stalemate after Saturday’s national polls. The Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS was not previously a key player in the country’s race-based politics, although it had enjoyed some electoral success in rural Malay states in the east of the peninsular.Ahead of the polls, Muhyiddin played on various Muslim sensitivities. In a TikTok video, he accused rival parties of being influenced by Jewish and Christian agents out to convert Malays from the Muslim faith. Apostasy is punishable under the country’s Islamic laws.

Tiktokowned by ByteDance, produced videos and recruited social media influencers to target the young base. There are six  million new voters, including over 1.2 million 18- to 21-year-olds who are newly eligible after a law lowered the voting age.According to the daily website, a confident Hadi declared a “comfortable win” and thanked “young voters” even before the end of the official vote count. He reiterated the long-term PAS vision to govern Malaysia based on Islamic principles by 2051. “And the social media — this time, TikTok — used by the National Alliance has influenced their voting preferences,” he said.One in ten Malaysians with smartphones use TikTok.. The proportion is higher among young adults, according to Resolute, a Malaysian digital marketing company, reported Nikkie Asia.

A Jakartapost report quoted scholars and political observers who confirmed that Tiktok influences the voters. They said that they should not disregard TikTok as a space for political information warfare amid elections in the region.Propagandists’ strategic manoeuvring of public opinion on social media remains a dangerous threat to democracy in Southeast Asia. Over the years, strategic use of cybertroopers in Southeast Asian countries has been prominent, especially during the election periods. Political actors have attempted to sway public opinion via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to push for a political narrative to garner more supporters in the region, alleged the daily newsportal.

US advocacy group, Freedomhouse.com has made several findings in its Beijing media influential efforts 2022, stating that Chinese state narratives in Malaysia follow the standard Chinese propaganda package: a mixture of rapport building, positive promotion of China and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) governance model, and counternarratives to international criticism, particularly from the United States.

In fact, Malaysian political parties have often been supportive of Chinese state narratives and repeated them to local audiences. The United Malays National Organization (UNMO)—the dominant party for most of Malaysia’s history, and the current ruling party as the largest member of the BarisanNasional coalition—has been relatively pro-China since the emergence of the 1MDB scandal in 2015, attributable in large part to the resulting need for investment. The China-financed East Coast Rail Link became a key campaign issue for the UNMO.

Malaysia has been the epicentre of a couple of major Chinese-language disinformation campaigns likely orchestrated by either Beijing or its political allies. There were no disinformation campaigns targeted to other languages in Malaysia.China-based companies do not have a presence in Malaysia’s digital television infrastructure, but other firms with close ties to the CCP have been gaining a presence in the social media and mobile phone sectors, creating potential vulnerability to future manipulation, stated Freedom house.

Most politicians in Malaysia have a TikTok account, including health minister KhairyJamaluddin; the parliamentarian Syed Saddiq; and former prime ministers Mahathir and Muhyiddin. There have been some documented cases around the world in recent years of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, although the company has subsequently reported correcting errors.

Available news reports suggested that some Chinese government entity or officials have tried to open a stealth account on Tiktok targeting western audiences with propaganda. In July, Bloomberg reported that a Chinese government entity responsible for public relations attempted to open a stealth account on TikTok targeting Western audiences with propaganda.

According to news agency, TikTok spokeswoman admitted that the company does allow some Chinese government entities, including the Chinese embassy in the US, to have verified accounts. The company is planning to expand its state-controlled media policy, which labels state-run accounts, in the “coming months” to include other government entities. A move that can adversely influence democratic process of any country. People of Malaysia should protect themselves from China’s dubious activities.