Well-coordinated social media disinformation campaign to create fear after polls

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Architects of Diversity, Justice for Sisters, Beyond Borders, Sisters in Islam (SIS), Kryss Network, Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor and Pusat Komas are alarmed at the current disinformation and hate campaign at a time of political uncertainty.

CIJ’s social media monitoring programme for the general election has found what seems to be a well-coordinated and paid attempt on social media to generate anti-DAP and anti-Chinese fear and hatred since the election.

Inflammatory posts, mostly on TikTok, have been pushing an anti-DAP agenda while calling for mainly Perikatan Nasional to govern the country.

These posts demonstrate trends that include a rewriting of the history of May 13 in 1969, including that the DAP was the cause of the race riots. The posts then evolved into videos containing images of weapons and guns, with messages warning the Malay majority to beware of the DAP and Pakatan Harapan. They also threatened a return of racial unrest.

CIJ executive director Wathshlah Naidu noted, “There is significant engagement on TikTok but these posts have also gone viral across platforms, namely Twitter.

“There seems to be a well-coordinated and resourced trend of paid-partnership where young content creators are being used; and netizens being manipulated to viralise these contents.

“User-generated comments are also significantly coordinated with certain accounts amplifying these hate messages.

“These contents using the May 13 incident are creating fear, polarising the already divided society along racial and religious lines, and at times inciting outright violence while leveraging the deepened social tensions.”

There are also allegations that PN has engaged professional agencies to coordinate these narratives.

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A significantly lower number of positive and moderate voices are also seen, especially on Twitter, when some netizens attempt to counter these hate narratives. It demonstrates the critical need to be informed to withstand such targeted hate narratives.

“The 13 May content that surfaced post-election are consistent with PN’s election campaign, which relied on demonisation of PH and its key leaders to distort voters’ perception,” Thilaga Sulathireh, founding member of Justice for Sisters, said.

Thilaga added: “Given the allegations and blatant linkages of the 13 May content with PN, it is important for the Election Commission to undertake an investigation of PN’s campaign tactics, in line with Section 4(a) of the Elections Offences Act. The investigation should also look into the ethics surrounding engagement of content creators, especially young content creators.

Jason Wee, co-founder of Architects of Diversity, added: “AOD, CIJ and our partners have reported these messages to social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter, and a number of these posts have since been removed.

“It is critical for social media platforms to strengthen their content moderation and ensure they invest in necessary resources to mitigate the risk by removing content that propagates hate and incites violence. Failure to act promptly will allow for further amplification of such narratives.”  

Malaysians deserve astute and progressive leadership that results in nation-building, instead of polarisation.

Wathshlah added: “The burden is now on the political parties to stop manipulating and orchestrating hate narratives and focus instead on good governance.

“What Malaysia needs is political leadership that will address recession, generate investments, minimise unemployment, and mitigate the climate crisis.

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“It is time for the political leaders to be accountable to the ‘rakyat’ and not make their own political expediency the only cornerstone of development.” – CIJ and others

TikTok Malaysia has responded through its PR agency:

At TikTok, we have zero tolerance against any form of hate speech and violent extremism. As it relates to May 13 content, we quickly removed videos which were in violation of our Community Guidelines.

We continue to be on high alert and will aggressively remove any violative content, including video, audio, livestream, images, comments, links, or other text. Our community members can also use our in-app reporting function to immediately report any harmful content. To do so, users can simply press and hold a video and a prompt will appear for users to click “Report”.

Since the lead up to the elections, we have been in constant communication with the relevant bodies, including the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), about accounts that are involved in severe or repeated on-platform violations.

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