Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Malaysian government and social media, here's my response.

Yesterday we attended the 'Government and social media' session organised by the wonderful people from @SMCkl. It was a very amusing session given the attendees: @asohan as moderator, @khairykj @tonypua as the 'political' reps @kamraslan as the lone ranger in no man's land and #tinamalone as the rep from America's gov 2.0. I've never met any of them in real life. Only read about them in the papers not their tweets. So, yesterday was my first time to get a first hand experience of what these people are really like, naked in flesh without their Twitter handles :P They're quite... funny. Khairy being the funniest.

Anyway, the session was conducted in a jovial and most civilized manner and everyone enjoyed themselves. I had a lot of questions swimming in my head but I didn't want to reveal myself to ask questions (they were taking photos). I was afraid of spending the night in some unidentified ISA cell. I was afraid that my blog and my entire social media life will be unplugged as punishment for asking questions that normally people are only comfortable asking online, anonymously. I was just afraid. And also because the room was !*@#& cold and I had to go to the loo badly and some of the things they were talking about made me !&#!^*$ and that if I had stood up and say something, I may just put additional weight on my already stressed bladders.

But today is different, my bladders' empty and I have all the time I need to ask as many questions as I like and comment as much as I want. These are based on the discussion last night. If you weren't there and read the following comments, you'd probably have an idea on the state of our government in 1) technology infrastructure 2) social media scene and 3) mindset and I kid you not.

1) Tina Malone shared about the new dot com era that was sweeping across America's government, changing it to dot gov. Lead by Obama's history-has-never-seen-before digital campaign maximising the usage of social media that caused his avalanche win, they followed through via other initiatives on both state and national level. They're using technology to provide transparency, democratising information to the people. You could access data (provided by the government and provided by others), you could mash data, you could do anything with it which you see fit (no wonder 'planning' in America is light years ahead of us - they almost have unlimited free access to any sort of data!). A lady in the crowd asked whether the Malaysian government is ready for this kind of transparency and how about sharing some of those data? Of course, you get the usual: Er.. ah.. and some really diplomatic answer such as yes, we would like that to happen and we believe it will happen and we're working towards it, blah. My answer to that question is simple: It's not that the government doesn't want to share data. Truth is, they have no data to share. When was the last census? Is MCMC's number about the state of internet in Malaysia accurate? Perhaps she was referring to budget expenditure and transparency in that. There's an easier and more cost effective way then. You could read: The BUDGET - How the Government is spending OUR money, written by Teh Chi-Chang and it only costs 20 bucks. In Ringgit.

2) I think Twitter and Facebook are cool social networks. And I think what it does for us, individuals are really cool too. But to think that our government has the exact same sentiment as me in that area is utterly uncool! I'm appalled at our government's primitive usage of 2.0 which confines to ONLY Facebook and Twitter (the two overused words in the session last night). 2.0 is about collective collaboration and creation - duh, social. It's not only Twitter and Facebook! The web is bigger than that you know? But having said that, I can understand why these two social networks are getting so much attention in our government. Malaysia with only 24 million peeps is indeed a very small country. Not to mention the great 'longkang' size divide between the wired and non-wired (thanks to TM's policy but we'll come to that next time). For something to gain an organisation's attention, you need the critical mass. So, 5 million Malaysians on FB and 1 million on Twitter, wowee. Great news for the government. So my question is: IF, God-forbids, one day, Facebook and Twitter decide to pull the plug. Or... the US government decides to pull the plug. So, they shut down. So is that it? There goes Malaysia's glorious but shortlived experience in so-called gov 2.0!? That's it? There goes Mr. PM's 15-minute fame and his FB 'friends'? This isn't web 2.0. This is primitive 2.0. We're still not leveraging on the power of social media. It's like you're strapped in a V12 belching over 600 horses and you're driving it like how you would in a 600cc Kancil. And your reason is: I don't know how to drive a V12? Wth!?

3) There are prime individuals in the government which are already utilizing social media to reach out to the general public whether it's via a blog, FB, videos, etc. As an individual, it's about freedom of speech (in my opinion, it almost always works in favour to the 'challenger' not so much the 'defender'). As a government, this is pure propaganda 2.0. Call it 'humanising' the politicians, political parties, government, or whatever. If you're ONLY using web 2.0 to self-promote (your deeds and your views), and you belong to any political parties, sorry dude. That's propaganda albeit 'humanised'. Is it just because we can see your photo on FB with your family? Believe me, I've seen that before. I read The Star.

4) I may sound really critical here. Well, that's because I am like that. In nature. But I just want to say that I can understand the trembling fear the government is going through because they're for once, at the same level with the 'rakyat' online. But I also really want to say that not everyone who criticizes wants a piece of the government. Some speak (out loud) because they're unhappy. You see, our emotions and sound volume are correlated. The 'unhappier' we are, the 'louder' we speak. That's all. But after speaking, if you get them involved sincerely, you'll find many Malaysians who are so willing and ready to collaborate for the better without even asking for anything in return. Why are you so afraid of making friends? Come on... lift and stretch out your index finger...

5) When I speak about power to the people (how you could REALLY leverage on social media), what realistically the government can do is to provide a platform with an aerial view of what's really happening (backed by accurate data that is, no matter how insufficient it is because it's better to start somewhere, then nowhere) and let the people mobilize themselves to get involve in where needs involvement. ONLY the government has got access to such view. Take for example the tree planting efforts, how small groups of people are trying their best to plant seedlings in places where IF the government had gotten involved, they will know that they'll only live to see their babies being chopped off to make way for another bungalow. Show them the map of critical areas. List down what needs to be done. Some will clear the land, some will put markers, some will prepare the seedlings, some will plant the damn seedlings, some will water them (hang on, this is beginning to sound like a hobby anyone can do!). We understand that the government simply does not have enough manpower but the value we can give to the people here which is immensely important, it's accuracy of information. Take Tourism Malaysia as another example. Some time ago, we proposed that we should have an independent portal powered by TM (the travel people not high speed ones) to engage ALL Malaysians (hello hello, itu big idea 1Malaysia... masih ingat?) to scour every inch of the country and share their best experiences AS a local. Imagine how much resources we can save to get that amount of priceless data to be made sense of, in a swanky looking portal (please do outsource your design to ad agencies, ANY ad agencies). And imagine the amount of people we will attract online? Imagine how this could further support your marketing efforts?

6) Someone asked whether social media will flourish in Malaysia like in the US. To compare the both is like heaven and earth. Forget about infrastructure. Are we EVER going to be on the same level as America in terms of freedom of speech and democracy? Then pray why do we have to self-censor our blog? Isn't my blog my property in a no man's land called the web? So you say I'm utilizing Malaysia's cable? Sitting on Malaysia's soil? Using TM's phone line? Connected to Streamyx? Didn't I pay tax? Pay TM? Pay Streamyx?

7) In the session, everyone talked about how the government can only reach the 'wired' upper middle class people if they were to focus on social media. Come on. Isn't it high time that you understand that the world does not run in a linear format anymore? Why do you assume Pak Cik in Kelantan detests the use of internet because he doesn't understand the language? Do lah in BM, no sorry, Kelantanese! Usability and visual simplicity. Straightforward, immediate gratification from service usage. Keep the 'application' in these disciplines and watch them check for weather forecast, latest market price of fishes and anything 'fishy' about baboon-ic pirates in Fisherman 2.0. It's the same theory. When we were kids, we used landline then we migrate to mobile phones. But kids today, they are born with mobile phones tied to their umbilical cord. Do not assume that we go through social changes in a linear format. He can be Pak Cik 2.0 with the right technology support. Hey TM (the high speed kind)! You wanna know how to hit your KPI by getting the other half of Malaysia to subscribe? Support application developers, help them flourish and get them connected to the right economy.

8) Second last question: Do you guys appoint any PR 2.0 firm for consultancy anyway? If you do, which one? I'd like to engage them too.

9) LAST question: What's the status of our cyberlaws? Still on 1.0?

Thank you very much for last night's session. See you again at the next one!


  1. The Malaysian government approach towards 2.0 is epitomised in the following anecdote.

    The donor followed up with a school to which he had donated 5 brand new computers. He was shocked to discover the 5 sitting safely in the HM's office, nicely covered with lace (or something).

    For heaven's sake, why? Because if people are allowed to use them, they can get spoilt!


  2. My tiny little insignificant 2 sens worth of advice to the government is... be positive. Be warned, it's gonna be a roller coaster ride but hey, enjoy it :) Take criticism with a smile and a stride. If we don't take risk, we don't get anywhere. I'm tired of standing in square number one since 10 years ago. Don't wanna stand in the same spot for another 10 years because I love my country.

  3. Another type of drama. All talk and no action, sigh, nothing new. Why get the rakyat to talk when no one is listening, or worse, banished from talking further.. sad..

  4. The rakyat (singular term, that's me, not plural cause I can't speak for anyone else) is ready to collaborate. Is the government ready?