Social Media Conference. Malaysia Social Media Week. Kuala Lumpur 24 April 2019
FROM TROLL TO TRUST
Yesterday, one of my friend, Dr. Lau, a lecturer in a private college wrote this on his social media: “Spoke to 40 Form 5 girls; they all told me they don’t use Facebook, only Instagram. What just happened”
There were 46 comments, but one of the best must be this by someone called Ray. He said: “Because mom and dad are on Facebook.
Or maybe another one by Dr. Tan, who just celebrated his 64th birthday last month. He asked: What is Instagram?
Fact is, dear millennials, while you are busy posting selfies with Syed Saddiq on Instagram, your parents, and grandparents are discussing about you on Facebook.
My point is, everyone’s on social media today. Whether Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or what my millennial interns told me: Snapchat.
(“What is Snapchat?”)
In April 2012, McKinsey article titled “Demystifying Social Media” said that if Facebook is a country, then it is the third largest country in the world, after China and India.
About five years later, on 28 June 2017, Prime Minister Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook has reached a population of 2 billion, making it the largest country in the world.
In Malaysia, the Facebook has 23 million users, about 72% of our population. To put things in perspective, in the last general election, we have 14.9 million registered voters. Total voters who came out to cast their votes was 12.3 million.
The number of people who registered for a Facebook account is about double the number of people who registered to vote in this country.
12 million of us (37.5% of the population) are on Instagram (Yes, I am there too, follow me, @scheekeong) with the largest category being female Malaysians between the age of 25 – 34. Twitter has about 2.4 million Malaysia users.
At this point, there are three things we cannot deny:
- Social media is here to stay and will continue to play an important role in our lives. Social media is part of our lives. A research published
by the American Psychological Association showed that in 2016, American teens spend an average of 2 hours a day on social media. That means, over 730 hours in a year per person. Again for comparison sake, WHO recommended that an average person should workout at minimal intensity for 150 minutes or two and a half hour a week. All the social media time, we all could look like Justin Timberlake and Taylor Smith.
- Social media is useful. Businesses look to social media as an important marketing tool, NGOs and non-profits use social media to advance their causes, politicians and political parties since the days of Barack Obama have been trying to figure out how to gauge voters’ sentiment as well as mobilise voters via microtargeting on social media. In the last two decades, including in the 14th General Election, we saw how social media was used by Opposition in countries which have limited press freedom to spread their news and views. Whether it was Tunisia or Tahrir Square in Egypt or Taksim Square in Turkey, social media was used by dissidents especially young people to spread their messages.
During the May 9th General Election in Malaysia, I saw how people organise carpooling to go home to vote. Remember the #UndiRabu campaign, we all had to vote on a workday in the middle of the week. One of my friends posted on her Facebook a message offering financial assistance to those facing financial difficulties to go home and vote. She and her friends pooled some money and funded about 100 people to travel home to do
their citizenry duty to vote. Social media transformed a normal citizen like her into a civic warrior.
At the very basic, social media is what it says it is, a platform for social interaction. My office just conducted a series of workshop called “Ah Kong Ah Ma social media workshop” where we help senior citizens to make sense and use social media such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Wechat, and even Grab. The result was amazing. One grandmother shared how she now is able to communicate with her grandkids who are living in another state because she can Whatsapp them. Another person told us, she used to be immobile, confined to her home because she cannot drive and public transport is highly inconvenient. But now that she learnt how to use Grab, she suddenly can go places. Talk about empowering senior citizens!
- But having said all that, my third point is, like all good things, we cannot deny that social media has its downside. This is where I want to focus on for the rest of my speech.
I want to point out two major problems with social media which I think all of you can play a role as solutions to these problems.
On 2 May 2017, at 5.07 am, 20 year old college student, Teh Wen Chun, posted the following message
on his Facebook: “Burn me to ashes. Release me by the sea. No tombstones, no funeral. Goodbye.”
Less than an hour later, he jumped to his death from his flat. I visited his parents. They told me young Teh was a victim of relentless cyber bullying.
My dear friends, words have consequences.
In a 2014 survey of 14,000 students in Malaysia, 70% claimed that they were victims of online harassment.
If you think the real world is not safe, then the cyber world must be worse.
I am sure you have come across how people are subjected to hate speech, hate campaign, shame campaign, anger, ridicule, trolling, and all sorts of bullying on social media.
Social media in this sense becomes anti-social media.
I have noticed a pattern where people become very angry when they go on social media. I have friends who are very soft-spoken and sometimes even very quiet in real life but when they go on the Internet, boy, they can curse and scold.
We see people angry at everything – they are angry at road accident, angry at football matches, angry at politicians, angry at artiste, angry at people
getting married, angry at people getting divorce, angry at people selling beer, angry at people who are angry at people who are selling beer.
Perhaps like Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility, some of us feel invisible and therefore invincible. Behind the privacy of our screen, we feel it is ok to say things we will not say in polite company in real life. This is wrong. Common sense and common courtesy must apply both in real life and on social media.
Secondly we are faced with the problem of fake news.
Because of social media, now everyone is able to say anything they want to a large audience. The Internet is where knowledge and information are just a Wikipedia search away, where all sorts of information is being shared on a minute-by-minute basis – from personal opinions on football and politics to partisan news and propaganda, gossips and rumours, fabricated stories about alien invasions and the danger of vaccination, and advertisements ranging from regular products and services to pseudo-scientific alternative medicine, money games and the outright “alternative facts”.
The net effect, my dear friend, is, we become overwhelmed trying to figure out truth from falsehood.
Because of this so-called freedom, we spend more time sieving and filtering information, not knowing who or what to trust anymore. Alas, we are chained by our own freedom: we become less free!
This is a strange twist of plot. Social media which is supposed to empower us – now becomes a weapon to disempower us.
The consequence is, instead of creating trust and bringing people together, social media creates more distrust. Again, we do not know who or what to trust anymore.
Social media becomes anti-social media.
What is the way forward?
Some of us will first ask, what can the government do? I think it is too easy. Government operates by policy and laws. Do we want a country where we have to legislate moderation, restraint, self-control and sobriety? Do we really want to have laws to enforce “trust”?
I think the solution is rather simple, if you ask me. Just five words: Let the buck stops here.
In other words, do not pass on or in social media language, do not forward the hate, do not forward
the anger, do forward the bullying, do not forward fake news.
I mean why should we forward all those negative elements? In real life, will you beat up another person because you saw someone beating him? No you won’t. You may even offer sympathy and assistance to the one being bashed up.
We should do the same on social media.
All of you are influencers and leaders in your own social media circle. Please Let the Buck Stops at you. You know very well how these things work: If no one shares them, they will die a natural death.
We do not want social media to become an anti-social media. My dear friends, let us turn trolls into trust. Or in social media language: #Troll2Trust