Facebook recently warned of the existence and proliferation of cybertroopers and trolls in Malaysia, and managed to stifle the growth. But these are the new forces of publicity and underground character assassins, a staggering multi-headed monster that has become the weapon of choice for many devious characters
If you are feeling too peaceful, calm and in need of a bit of mental riot, here is a surefire way: check out the comment space of online news posts, especially those concerning very topical issues: lamentations by prominent figures and hotly debated events. The disgust emanating from responding to the news shared in social media platform like Facebook, especially by hordes of trolls and cyber troopers, seeping out of those vitriolic, poorly spelt comments might spill over and drive you to depression or kill some small animals.
If that is the case, then, a congratulations is in order – you have unwittingly become collateral damage (or intended victim, depends) to the surge of the trolls and cybertroopers, especially in this country. They are a familiar bunch: crawling all over the comment spaces, consisting of vengeful college students, or acerbic grandmothers and, who knows, perhaps quietly fanatical leaders rushing in with torches and pitchforks wearing Ku Klux Klan-ish masks of anonymity.
It is not surprising if Malaysians overall have been feeling the onslaught of these cyber-paper cuts. Indeed, several weeks back, Facebook announced that Malaysia has become a hub for troll farms, a discovery extolled in their Adversarial Threat Report and this begs the question: Why would an available-to-public-for-free social media site would want an adversarial threat report when its chief mode of group sized infection is making friends?
Anyway, the report noted that it has since taken down:
596 Facebook accounts, 180 Facebook pages, 11 Facebook groups and 72 Instagram accounts, one troll farm in Malaysia. In total, they had racked up approximately 427,000 accounts as followers on at least one of these pages, with 4,000 accounts as part of their Facebook groups and another 15,000 followers on their Instagram accounts.
Made in Malaysia
The Facebook warning comes from the appearance of the dreaded legion of trolls, especially the offensive and sometimes mercenarily enterprising cybertroopers – a term that was actually devised in Malaysia apparently, meaning, a “person who is paid to disseminate political propaganda on the internet, particularly on social media platforms”.
In fact, over here, several years back, it was the ruling party that was accused of deploying cybertroopers to glorify its component party, Umno specifically, But now, go to any posts by supposedly Barisan Nasional (BN) party-aligned news portals, and watch hate spill over at the comment section. The fact that they all somewhat sound alike, with similarly sounding venomous diatribes could only mean that they are part of those cyber troops at full functional mode.
What worked as public relations tool for BN, the cybertrooping, is now used as a method by the opponents to strip the glories, and worst, used instead for character assassinations; while demonising it and the component parties for anything that can easily be pilloried in the name of political correctness (racism, religious extremism).
Look, it is no surprise that the rise of the pro-opposition cybertroopers is parallel with the growing number of social media users in the country. Towards the end of last year, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry Secretary announced that Malaysia contained around 28 million social media users, a two million increase compared to 2020!
The latest Malaysian population is at 34 million, and social media users number for a staggering 84% of the population! That, of course, does not mean that there are 28 million folks are using social media. It could be one with multiple accounts, across various platforms.
Let us also not forget that the growth of social media is not necessarily because of love. Hate unites many too, of which Malaysians are not spared form. That is why our country still struggling to sell homemade products, not getting enough support for our athletes, and only recently a local film made a fantastic collection and yet still gets brickbats and criticised for all the wrong reasons.
This makes us easier to be rallied by hatred, than love. The Netizens, especially, can be cajoled and seduced by one holding that sceptre of united bitterness, usually by a public figure. In Malaysia, for instance, of late, there is no bigger troll in person than one Rafizi Ramli, the deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). His constant, consistent feeding of the same accusations, backed by (half-baked, semi-boiled) shreds of evidence have sent the trolls on a rampage all over cyberspace armed with links to the press statements and news by this Malaysian King of Troll.
The Rampaging Troll King
That title is self-inflicted. He had himself proudly claimed that his specific responsibility has been to hasut (instigate) the people. This troll Hydra is nevertheless the real-life re-imagination of the Terminator all out to destroy Najib Razak and the BN at all cost through his instigation and seemed to be proud of it.
The troll king himself runs a big data analytics company called not-so-subtly named, Invoke, for which he actually roped in former aide of Obama (remember him?) Andrew Claster, a sifu in the art of political persuasion and voter targeting. Invoke supposedly deals with big data analytics, a method of analysing complex data sets in order to make more informed decisions around the way they work, think and provide value to their customers.
In a news report, when asked if the big data analytics would be used to come up with personalised messages for prospective voters, Rafizi said it may not be necessary as the point of the exercise was to profile “marginal” and “persuadable” voters.
He means, of course, making public announcements, offering trailers, teasing, tantalizing the Netizens and further exacerbating the troll situation in the country. Currently, he is the sweetheart of the trolling mass, and in fact, is the very sweetheart of the Malaysian cyber-Hydra with those troll heads.
Going back to Facebook and the distaste over poor troll history in Malaysia, we must remember that online presence is now getting larger and larger in the Malaysian business landscape. Home-grown businesses are growing and expanding. There is a great growth potential for Malaysian e-commerce, limitless in fact, considering our colourful culture that gave way to an amazing array of products and services saw a healthy rise with the arrival of the pandemic, especially helping homes of many who have lost their jobs at that time. The potentiality extends overseas, across borders and over many continents.
But this teeming mass of trolls, the online pests, are going to be Brand Malaysia just like how Somalia is associated with pirates, are going to kill all that efforts the ordinary folks has put in on the online platform to make a living, and to prosper. One should not take the warning by Facebook lightly. We have a huge task ahead of us, in ensuring that we avoid feeding these trolls. Remember all those great stories, including that of the Hydra: when you no longer are able to finish cutting off that millions of heads of that monster, stab the heart. – NMH
About the writer: Rakesh Kumar is a writer, scriptwriter, and a film aficionado, who is four years and seven months clean and sober. And counting…
The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the New Malaysia Herald.