The Political Power of Social Media in the 21st Century

Written by Nasihah Hamid

Remember the tragic racial episode at Plaza Low Yat during July 2015? Many thanks to the emergence of various social media, the story are shared, commented and spread like wildfire causing an uproar in the online community due to the wild rumour of racially motivated incident. A simple case of smartphone theft and misunderstanding had led to bigger consequences involving national insecurity. Sadly, social media also has brought this issue into political dimension despite the fact that it has nothing to do with it.

The fake tweets involve Elizabeth Wong, Selangor executive council member apparently accused “askar upahan UMNO” as the solid cause of the issue (Hamid, 2015) show that social media has made easier for people to frame message and cause political instability in Malaysia environment. The defamatory, seditious and racist statement in the social media like Facebook and Twitter not only fanned racial tensions but also can directly change the political landscape and threatened government reputation. Thus, this tragic case at Plaza Low Yat, for instance, has provided an illustration of how the content of the social media can be a double-edged sword in managing nation harmonious and naturally influence political landscape and government reputation in general.


There are several debates on the issue of political protest and violence concerning the ability of social media to challenge to take collective action (Wolfsfeld, Segev, & Sheafer, 2013). During the Arab Spring, Twitter was used by the Iranians in 2009 to protest the elections. This event had been known as “Twitter Revolution” because protesters use Twitter and other social media to spread their message out (Wolfsfeld, Segev, & Sheafer, 2013). In Malaysia, the Bersih rally has captured the international and local headlines which demanded clean and fair electoral. Indeed, a Facebook petition has been made calling for Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak to step down has drawn the attention of 200,000 supporters (Ahmad, Kee, Mustaffa, Ibrahim, & Mahmud, 2012).

Although Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (CMCF) existing guidelines and rule apply to all the content on the internet the challenge to create awareness on the usage of social media is beyond reachable. In the past, social media seems simple and not harmful, but their functions are changing over times as people are now exposing with various alternative information from the local and global context. Thus, social media need to be given incentive attention by the policymakers if they would like to insulate the dramatic event of “Arab Spring” from happening again.



Hamid, A. J. (2015, July 19). Social media worth its share of scrutiny. Retrieved November 12, 2016, from News Straits Times Online:

Wolfsfeld, G., Segev, E., & Sheafer, T. (2013). Social media and the Arab spring politics comes first. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 115-137.