In Run-Up To GE15, Politicians Turn To TikTok

The short-form video sharing app, TikTok, is the most downloaded app early this year, making politicians scramble to get on the bandwagon

Some five years ago before the dissolution of the then Parliament to make way for GE14, Malaysian politicians were scrambling to get themselves heard and shared on Facebook and Twitter, long before TikTok was founded. Facebook then was to appeal to the older voters while Twitter was the port to attract the younger voters.

Of course, one cannot forget the contribution of Whatsapp groups for the dissemination of the latest information, gossips and even lies about political parties or certain personalities.

Today, however, TikTok is the new kid on the block that is helping to shape a new generation’s political identity. And while not many politicians are using the app, some lawmakers are embracing it to try to connect with younger voters.

According to the Search Engine Journal, TikTok was the most downloaded app in Q1 2022. Quoting Store Intelligence Data for Q1 2022 report, TikTok was downloaded more than 175 million times from 01 January through 31 March 2022.

In the United States, for example, TikTok was first released during the time of the Trump administration, and the Defense Department tried to ban it in the United States for the sole reason that it’s from China, thus the fear of security issues.

TikTok does not operate in China, but the Defense Department felt that its parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, would be legally bound to give the Chinese government information about TikTok users if it were sought, digital experts said. 

Interestingly, while TikTok which originates from China is banned there, there is a Chinese counterpart of TikTok. It is a social and e-commerce platform that is helping brands and marketers in China and opening doors for overseas brands. TikTok is known in China as Douyin (literal meaning: “shaking sound”). Why did China start TikTok and then banned it when it became a worldwide sensation, and later came up with another platform for their market? Rather baffling, ain’t it?

Despite what was the policy on TikTok during the Trump administration, today however, when it comes to speed and numbers for dissemination of information, many have made use of this platform to do just that. Even for something as important as the Russia-Ukraine war.

TikTok Updates On Russian-Ukraine War

In March this year, Washington Post reported that 30 top TikTok stars gathered on a Zoom call to receive key information about the war unfolding in Ukraine. National Security Council staffers and White House press secretary Jen Psaki briefed the influencers about the United States’ strategic goals in the region and answered questions on distributing aid to Ukrainians, working with NATO and how the United States would react to a Russian use of nuclear weapons.

As the crisis in Ukraine has escalated, millions have turned to TikTok for information on what is happening there in real-time. TikTok videos offered some of the first glimpses of the Russian invasion and since then the platform has been a primary outlet for spreading news to the masses abroad. Ukrainian citizens hiding in bomb shelters or fleeing their homes have shared their stories to the platform, while dangerous misinformation and Russian propaganda have also spread. And TikTok stars, many with millions of followers, have increasingly sought to make sense of the crisis for their audiences, according to the report.

When it comes to Malaysian politicians, however, when one mentions TikTok, the name that comes to mind is of course Syed Saddiq, the former Minister of Youth and Sports, and now in the Opposition bloc.

Syed Saddiq is a 28-year-old politician from Muar. He has millions of followers across his social media accounts and has leveraged this influence to push for policy change in Malaysia – calling for the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 with the Undi18 bill – accepted by politicians from both sides of the political divide. On TikTok alone, he has almost 750,000 followers with 8.9 million Likers.

With 740k followers Syed Saddiq appears to have appealed to young voters with his TikTok postings

Of course, when it comes to Facebook, no Malaysian politician comes close to former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has 4.6 million followers just on Facebook alone. Najib too has now joined the lineup of political TikTokkers to send his message across, especially to the new voters.

Although he has only recently started on Tiktok, under the brand Coffee with Bossku, he seems to be focusing more on providing health tips and managing difficult situations, although he posts his events and speeches on the platform too.

However, many who have followed his FB posts will know that he will ultimately share some of his insights into policy issues which are usually people-centric that have brought about many developments in gov’t policies. These include monetary aid for the needy and support for SMEs, as well as EPF withdrawals during the severe pandemic period. All of these aid for those in need were reminiscent of his administration when he was Malaysia’s 6th prime minister for nine years.

Other Malaysian politicians that have used the TikTok platform, successfully I must say, are Ministers Khairy Jamaluddin and Tengku Zafrul. Both of them provide information about gov’t policies under their respective portfolios.

We know that GE15 is just around the corner when PKR and DAP leaders start posting on TikTok. These include PKR’s no. 1 & 2, Anwar Ibrahim and Rafizi Ramli respectively. Interestingly, Rafizi’s first post on TikTok is to attack Najib. Many have found this unbecoming as he seems so focused on Najib when people are more concerned about what are his plans for the citizens if they were to win the election. After all, the 22-month Pakatan Harapan gov’t, of which PKR was part of, failed miserably when they were voted in to replace Barisan Nasional.

DAP’s Hannah Yeoh’s TikTok account is interesting and seems to have a wide reach too. She seems to have got it right with her approach.

Point to note, however, before the politicians use TikTok to reach potential young voters, the platform is well-known for marketers and celebrities to promote their services and products.

We have actress Fazura who uses the platform to promote her hijab business endearingly with videos of her cute daughter and equally famous actor husband Fattah Amin. We also have Mydin boss Ameer Ali Mydin, who not only dances with his hypermarket store staff in his videos but highlights gov’t issues on price hikes and what’s good on offer on a particular day in Mydin, which now has 65 outlets nationwide.

Interestingly, one personality who has been quiet lately, but started her own FB page and now recently, on the TikTok platform is Najib’s spouse, Rosmah Mansor.

Although her posts are mostly about her family, especially her grandchildren, the importance of education, support for the special needs community and sharings about her previous activities when her husband was the prime minister, she also shared her moments with Najib.

Why TikTok, she was asked? “… because I want to put my ideas and thoughts on record so that when my grandchildren are at an age when they are on social media, they will read about the family and some of our activities,” she explained.

I guess that explains why some of the non-politicians who do not have products or services to sell, uses TikTok and other social media platforms to record their daily activities.

As for the politicians, how far they will take their messages on TikTok and how successful is the platform to bring in the new young voters, it is left to be seen when they go to ‘war’ using this platform in the soon-to-be-announced GE15. – New Malaysia Herald.

About the writer: Carole Raymond Abdullah is a freelance writer who used to domicile in Hongkong for many years. She is now back in Malaysia, totally surprised at the turn of events in the country lately.

The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the New Malaysia Herald.

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Carole Raymond Abdullah

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