Social Media & Advocacy. Are Malaysians effectively utilising ICT?

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Nowadays many Malaysian social advocates and activists utilise the social media. It is very popular, it is part of the growing lifestyle and it is part of communication. I have yet to meet any who does not have an account with Twitter or Facebook, not to mention at least a couple of email accounts stored in their BlackBerry. Advocates depend on social media and their multitude of gadgets (from iPhones to Tablets), not forgetting the thousands of apps, to supposedly increase efficiency in their work and perhaps their much-needed fashionable lifestyles.

Before the New Year, I was invited to share best practises of harm-reduction (drug use) work among young people. Naturally I was excited and forwarded some concepts and thoughts via email. The response I received from another Malaysian harm-reductionist was bitterly disappointing. He was unable to share his thoughts using email (perhaps he was lazy imbecile) and instead was eager to conduct a face-to-face meeting. It is not as if he does not have any proficiency in email correspondence, and he is quite skillful with his Facebook-time (hundred of his FB friends can testify to that). The mentality of some (or many) social advocates are the same, like this sod. There are still dependant on conventional meetings and gatherings to communicate; this is despite the advancement of ICT and their capacity to purchase an assortment of hardware and flashy gadgets.

Are Malaysians really utilising ICT to enhance their work? Or are they more keen on exchanging pleasantries and to socialise? Is ICT a tool for community-work or is it merely a platform for mental masturbation?

We have seen the effectiveness of ICT (for example, Twitter) during the Bersih protests, where the flurry of messages, photos and online whirlwind coordination enabled Bersih and human rights advocates to work their magic for their Cause. Quite impressive, mind you. However there is also a question of sustainability of momentum. After the protests, Malaysians are back in the comforts of their office or drop-in centre, bitching about loads of human rights violation or political dissatisfaction, but it seems venting and barbaric rants does not solve the bigger problem: – who’s going to do the actual work with the grassroot and marginalised groups? Homelessness is still a major problem in urban settings of Malaysia, not to mention new HIV cases are detected at an alarming rate of 10 people infected per day. Where does ICT play a role in Malaysia’s sensitization of knowledge or skills needed by the poor and hungry?

ICT is an interesting concept of advocacy yet I am not convinced that Malaysians are fully aware of its potential. Raising the issue of sexuality and freedom in Malaysia is a right thing to do, however once said (or tweeted) it is forgotten almost immediately. People are now more concerned about their cup of coffee, their shopping spree agenda or further digging into the pisspot of apathy.

I am all for the freedom of usage of ICT by social advocates for recreational purposes. But it seems that is all what they use it for, to bitch about the establishment and to socialise. Obvious indicators of social media and social advocacy exercises that worked in Indonesia and Thailand, and its effectiveness in influencing the general public, are excellent examples of fully embracing, harnessing and utilising ICT to champion a community or a Cause (such as the floods in Thailand and Philippines).

All in all, Malaysian social advocates need to learn from our neighbours in the region. Let us not just tweet a link or two but most important the incorporation of social media into advocacy, and enabling a suitable environment to the actual work, on the ground, in the streets, the rainforests, the slums, the plantations or wherever. What is the point of Malaysians merely tweeting, lecturing and talking, when the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled and the homeless are still rotting in our lack of action.


An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at and @bedlamfury

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