September 19


How racial misinformation shapes politics, according to an ex-BN ‘cybertrooper’

A former Barisan Nasional (BN) “cybertrooper” today revealed how her past 13th general election online campaign for the former ruling coalition helped solidify perceived “racial tensions” between different ethnic communities in Malaysia. The MalayMail reports:

Syarul Ema Rena Abu Samah, also known online as Ratu Naga (Malay for “Dragon Empress”), told a forum organised by the Cooler Lumpur Festival at the Publika shopping mall here that the work she did for BN for the general election included creating videos which portrayed Malays as being marginalised and exploited by other ethnic groups.

“In GE13, I did a video playing up racial issues, especially among the Indians and the Chinese. At that time, a lot of people were angry with DAP,” she told a forum titled “Kasi Viral: The Spread of Racial Disinformation in Malaysia.”

Syarul Ema explained how in that video, actors were employed to portray how difficult it was for Malays to find gainful employment, and how they were rejected by would-be ethnic Chinese employers because of their race.

“The video became viral, about how the Chinese will say ‘no Malays’ to Malays seeking jobs and how Indians became bosses in many job fields. The actors, the editing I did it all myself.

“I spread the video through WhatsApp, because the issue of race and religion is very sensitive, and if I had shared it on Facebook, many people would have sued me,” she claimed.

She claimed at that time she had over 500 WhatsApp groups in her phone to share these types of content, and that these groups comprised of BN, PAS and even Pakatan Rakyat supporters.

“I even had groups for ‘cari jodoh!’” she exclaimed to laughter from the audience, referring to groups of those seeking soulmates.

When asked by moderator Melisa Idris whether her work for BN had worked, she replied: “All I know is that BN won GE13.”

Ever since joining PKR a few years back, Syarul Ema says she now regrets what she did in the past, and has “repented.”

“I feel bad when I see people fighting about race and religion on Facebook because I feel that I had a part in it,” she said.

Gayathry Venkiteswaran speaks at the Cooler Lumpur Festival Kuala Lumpur October 5, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Gayathry Venkiteswaran speaks at the Cooler Lumpur Festival Kuala Lumpur October 5, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Another panellist, academic Gayathry Venkiteswaran said that a rising concern is how people often shared information on WhatsApp, even though it has not necessarily been verified, and if it reinforces certain perceptions or stereotypes.

She also pointed out how some media organisations further entrenched racial divisions by the language used in stories and how they are framed.

“There have been certain types of languages used against minorities. It is always used to describe them as the ‘other.’

“We end up viewing everything from a racial lens,” she said.