The New Super Power of Public Diplomacy, Psyops and Propaganda

Posted: Mei 21, 2015 in think tank thought

Information and communication technology increasing with the growing variety of Internet based applications. This new media is not only ‘library information’ to facilitate the dissemination of information to a universal audience, but even more than that. This media is also a powerful tool for communication activities. Furthermore, with Web 2.0 technology, design and use of the Internet has changed much work to do with this new media that Levinson (2009) call this ‘new new media’ – more new than the new media- which shows variances against the classic new media such as e-mail and websites. This media is not merely a tool to facilitate distribution, archiving and text-based, but has become a tool for social media who have the capability delivering media content and providing interaction facilities between readers and writers.

Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (2010) define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content (photos, videos, links, etc.).” In addition, it is also one of the latest communication channels that enable dissemination and sharing of information can be done quickly and widely through the new media.

Undeniably, the year 2008 is seen as the social media development, especially for social networking: Facebook became a major player, MySpace changed its focus to music and movies, Friendster became the leader in Southeast Asia, Bebo acquired by AOL. ComScore report released in January 2010 showed that more than 770 million people around the world visit social networking sites in 2009, an increase of about 18 per cent over the previous year to reach almost 70 per cent of global online audience, placing it as one of the most popular destinations on the web. Users on average visit social networking sites 20 times in a month and spent four hours with it (Nguyen, 2010).

According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), since introduction, social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have engrossed millions of users, many of whom have included these websites into their daily life. There are hundreds of social networking sites, with various technological affordances, supporting a wide range of interests and practices.

They believe that although the key technological features are equally reliable, the cultures that emerge around social networking sites are varied. According to their study, most sites support the maintenance of pre-existing social networks, but others help strangers connect based on shared interests, political views, or activities.

Hence, there is no doubt that social networking sites have unlocked a box of sovereignty for societies living in sealed cultures everywhere in this world.


Arab Spring

The Arab Spring has become an emerging case study that social media plays it powerful influence to map a socio-political landscape of a country. Literally, Arab Spring is defined as a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world that began on 18 December 2010. It is also called as ‘Arab Spring and winter,’ ‘Arab Awakening’ or ‘Arab Uprisings’ even though not all the participants in the protests are Arab.  It was sparked by the first protests that occurred in Tunisia on 18 December 2010 in Sidi Bouzid, following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in protest of police corruption and ill treatment. With the success of the protests in Tunisia, a wave of unrest sparked by the Tunisian “Burning Man” struck Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, and Yemen, then spread to other countries.

What makes these incidents happened? And what is (are) the catalyst(s) that possible to fasten its effects? O’Donnell (2011) from University of Washington explained that in the 21st century, the revolution may not be televised – but it likely will be tweeted, blogged, texted and organized on Facebook (and twitter). This argument has been supported by Howard (2011) while saying that, “Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising.”

The social media has extensively flooded the Arab Spring incidents and it is believed that Twitter itself ballooned from 2,300 to 230,000 a day. Meanwhile, videos are broadcasted mainly through YouTube went viral and received nearly 5.5 million viewers (O’Donnell, 2011).

As matter of fact, Facebook users doubled in the Arab world between January and April 2011 (Huang, 2011). For example, by compared 2011 to 2010; Tunisia had 17 per cent growth compared to ten per cent, so is Egypt which had 29 per cent compared to 12 per cent and Bahrain had 15 per cent compared to six per cent. Twitter on the other hand, found that the hashtag ‘Egypt’ boomed up to 1.4 million in the first quarter of 2011. It followed by ‘Jan25’ which had 1.2 million, ‘Libya’ had 990,000, ‘Bahrain’ had 640,000 and ‘Protest’ had 620,000.

These situations indicated that social media had successfully used and manipulated to control the society’s mind. The orchestrated demonstration definitely a propaganda led by the United States to take charge of the political landscape of Arabs world. It is indeed an undeniable facts as Ahmad Bensaada (2011) wrote in his book of ‘Arabesque Americaine,’ “I have been increasingly skeptical of the authenticity of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions — especially in Egypt (where the outcome is a military junta) and Libya (which, like Iraq , has been bombed back to the Middle Ages).”


BERSIH 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

Social media is definitely a powerful tool in shaping opinion. The BERSIH rallies could not have been mobilized without the Internet, aided, perhaps, by applications such as WhatsApp, LINE, Viber and Tango. In the days before and after the BERSIH rallies for electoral reform, Malaysian social networks were buzzing like never before.

A 2010 survey by global market research firm TNS showed that Malaysians have the highest number of Facebook friends in the world, averaging 233 friends. They also spend nine hours weekly on social media sites. Malaysia records 9.54 million Facebook users with a 38.8% penetration rate. These rates are likely to grow as broadband penetration intensifies over the next few years. It also found that digital sources are overtaking TV, radio and newspapers as the media channel of choice for 61% of the online population around the world (BBC, 2010).

Indeed, social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in motivating some of the demonstrators in the run-up to the rallies, which went ahead despite a police ban and lockdown imposed on sprawling Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the BERSIH protest. Even the BERSIH organizer, has its own Facebook page attracting a similar number of ‘likes’ with 216,848 fans at the time of this posting (Tricia Yeoh, 2011).

Furthermore, an ingenious website tracked tweets on Twitter and the number of users one month before and one month after the rally. It recorded 263,228 tweets by 33,940 users using the #bersihhashtag between 9 June and 14 Aug 2011 (BERSIH 2.0). Even now, tweets about the topic are still being sent.

Post-Bersih continued, with #bersihstories (personal accounts of the Bersih rally experience) recording 11,192 tweets from 2,966 users. This was also the first time a Malaysian campaign was organized in more than 30 cities worldwide, largely due to the online chatter that enthused Malaysians living abroad. Videos of these simultaneous events were thereafter similarly shared online (Ibid, 2011).

With hindsight, BERSIH 3.0 has occurred on 28 April 2012. Nine months before, on July 9, 2011, BERSIH 2.0 has been organized. In November 2007, BERSIH 1.0 was held in support of electoral reform exemplifies the potential of new media to sidestep ossified patterns of social division.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin raised his fears when he accused BERSIH of waging ‘psychological warfare’ to swing voter supports away from BN. He stated that because of fearful of losing GE 13, is trying to prepare the groundwork by using BERSIH to launch a ‘psyops’ (psychological operation) war. The aim is to try and condition the way people perceive the election and the result. He believes that this is their way of conditioning people into thinking that if BN wins the election, then the process was not clean and fair (The Choice, 2012).

Additionally, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) lecturer, Muhammad Afifi Abdul Razak has claimed that BERSIH rallies, which had thousands of Malaysians take to the streets to rally against the establishment, were masterminded by foreign forces determined to topple the government with violence (The Malaysian Insider, 2011). Moreover, local political analyst, Professor Dr. Atory Ahmad Hussein also said the opposition coalition’s shadow like fear of exploding due to the variety in their alliances ‘sagging’ street protests that forced the guise Combined Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH). He said that what they want to do is one of the ways to gain popularity and influence, because they know the tactics of mass media so it will give full concentrate on what they do.

The scenarios revealed the potential of new media, especially social networking sites. The role played by these media best resembles the process of ‘public will mobilization’ which is defined by Salmon, Fernandez, and Post (2012) as, “a social force that can mobilize organically, or with external support and influence, to become a political lever for social change [it] has the potential, if adequately resourced, organized, and mobilized, to serve as the impetus for social change.”

The social networking sites especially Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have proved an ideal medium for breaking the limitations traditionally imposed on who is allowed to speak in public, and what it is proper to say or even think regarding the social, moral, and political orders.

It seems likely that social media, particularly in the form of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, would increase the visibility of the revolution and thus change the perceived consequences for individual citizens of joining the revolutionaries. In addition to decreasing the cost of information and coordination efforts, social networking site are able to demonstrate that massive support for revolution exists.

As predicted, social networking site have allowed protestors to connect in a way that was not possible before. The role of new media was especially important in three intertwined ways: enabling cyber activism, a major trigger for street activism; encouraging civic engagement, by aiding the mobilization and organization of protests and other forms of political expression; and promoting a new form of citizen journalism, which provided a platform for ordinary citizens to express themselves.

In conclusion, the use social media site may be seen as the new ‘technical’ basis role in shaping the outcome of the uprisings and indeed have a potential role in the creating a social force that can mobilize progressively to become a prolific device for social change.


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