(A Facebook picture shows Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri being served turtle eggs allegedly at the Restoran Indah Keranamu in Sandakan which went viral)
Media has always been a significant pillar of society. Media doesn’t just report happenings, it also builds public opinion. This puts the media in a powerful position in a democracy and wherever there is power there is a chance of misuse of that power.
In some countries, powerful media houses are said to have influenced election results by portraying people and events a certain way. In Malaysia too.
The media space has changed a lot with the emergence of social media. With social media, the public has eyes and ears everywhere. They are not limited to camera crews of a few TV channels or reporters of a few newspapers.
Social media is a platform that showcases public opinion such that it cannot be easily doctored. It reflects the pulse of society. Even traditional media channels keep an eye on ongoing social media trends.
In the recent past, we have seen so many top news stories originate from social media. Apart from highlighting issues that are socially relevant and crucial, social media has also exposed the disconnect between the government and the population. People are more aware of what our leaders are up to and exchange notes on how laws and policies affecting them are being made. Gone are the days when the government could pass laws behind closed doors without the public realising it for months. Thanks to the social media, discussion on political issues and implications is widespread and immediate.
Some politicians thrive on keeping communities apart and playing one’s interests over the other to secure their votebanks. As boundaries between people blur over social media, and they become more aware and better informed, this will no longer be easy to do. One needs to be more aware and alert while making speeches or statements. People see through any gimmick done with an ulterior motive and any sign of a narrow mindset comes in for severe criticism, just like the ‘kafir harbi’ issue.
Like all powerful tools, social media should also be used with utmost care and responsibility failing which it can cause damage to the society. In the recent terror attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in Turkey, terrorists used social media widely to plan and execute their attacks, 42 people were killed and injured hundreds of others. More recently, in Sabah, The Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA), headed by Huguan Siou Joseph Pairin Kitingan had to lodge a police report against the “Majlis Himpunan Rakyat Membantah Penarikan MyKad” (Council of the Gathering of Citizens to Protest the Withdrawal of the MyKad) which was planing to hold an anti-RCI event in Kota Kinabalu on May 31, a poster on the event circulating in social media went viral, social media was used to spread panic and fear among Sabahans leading to the police report.
However, with its potential to bring people together, social media also holds immense promise as a tool for social change. We have recently seen many successfully executed protests organised over social media that have made the right impact,like Bersih the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, for the first time, the act of mass civil disobedience ran for 34 hours in Kuala Lumpur. Another application of social media could be to effectively utilize the vast diversity of human resource that Sabah has which is still lying untapped. For instance, in my SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo) church, somebody announces a dental camp in a locality on a date and others join, including doctors, dentist, dental nurses and even pharmacist. Likewise, somebody announces a tree planting drive or a cleaning drive and people support the initiative with their time or resources.
We are clearly passing through a phase of transformation. Sabah is a nation of youth who have a big role to play in that transformation.
Social media is a medium that connects them and gives them voice. This voice is growing louder. It is a welcome sign and I’m really glad Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman has embrace the social media in a big way and he is very active on Facebook and Twitter and WhatsApp groups, and he regularly updates events and photos.