GE13: A ‘social media election’ after all

  • Average of 300 tweets per minute using #GE13 hashtag on May 5
  • Among the ‘popular’ conversation were those on the use of indelible ink

WHILE it is arguable whether social media helped candidates win votes or parties the hearts of the public in Malaysia’s recently concluded general election, it certainly played a role on the day itself.
According to online intelligence solutions provider Meltwater’s monitoring of Twitter during the country’s 13th election (GE13) on May 5, there was an average of 300 tweets per minute using the hashtag #GE13 (click infographic below to enlarge).
There were also 11,545 GE13-related public posts on Facebook on the day, says Meltwater marketing and communications manager for Asia Pacific, Janet Yu.

GE13: A ‘social media election’ after all

As for the term ‘Olympics’ appearing in the theme cloud constructed by Meltwater, it was because of some social media conversations alluding to the fact that the last time Malaysian were this excited was during the badminton finals in the 2012 games.
The Internet, especially social networks, was a key battlefront in the general election for the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition and its opponent the Pakatan Rakyat. With most of the mainstream media owned by Barisan political parties, the Internet was the only medium the Opposition could use to reach out to voters.
About 61% or nearly 18 million of Malaysia’s population of 28 million has access to the Internet, according to 2011 data from the World Bank, and 80% of its Internet population has Facebook accounts.
Barisan fairly ignored the Internet in the last general election in 2008, which saw it lose its two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in its history. Determined not to cede ground on any front this time, it spent the intervening years training what it calls ‘cybertroopers’ to take the battle to social networks as well.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, after he dissolved Parliament in April to pave the way for GE13, described it as Malaysia’s “first social media election.”
Ultimately, Barisan was returned to power on May 5, but with an even slimmer majority and despite losing the popular vote to the Opposition, which had garnered 51% of actual votes but only 40% of Parliamentary seats.
Pundits who had previously described GE13 as “the mother of all election” were proven right: There are more than 13 million registered voters in the country, and nearly 85% turned up to vote on May 5, the biggest voter turnout in Malaysian history, according to official figures from the Eleciton Commission (EC).
And on polling day, it seemed as if all of them were on social media to see the results of their balloting.
Among the controversial subjects that saw play in social media that day was the use of indelible ink for the first time in Malaysian elections, to prevent duplicate voting. Some postal voters who had cast their ballots the previous week had complained that the ink was easily washed off.
On May 5, already forewarned, many voters posted before-and-after pictures of their fingers on Facebook and Twitter to prove that the ink, at least in some cases, could be removed.
“From our analysis, ‘ink’ was mentioned 1,438 times; ‘indelible’ was mentioned 1,001 times and ‘indelible ink’ 918 times,” says Meltwater’s Yu.

Meanwhile, although Najib’s official Facebook page has 1,720,255 likes, the engagement level was a very low 12%. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s official Facebook page has nearly half of Najib’s at 826,586 likes, but had an extremely high engagement rate of 75% on May 5.
“Engagement is the number of people talking about the page, divided by the number of people who like the page,” explains Yu.
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