Feeling the Chill: Bersih 2.0, State Censorship, and “Networked Affect” on Malaysian Social Media 2012–2018

Amelia Johns, Niki Cheong

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Abstract

In 2007, Bersih—a Malaysian social movement for “clean and fair elections”—rode a wave of anti-government sentiment to mobilize 40,000 citizens to take to the streets. In particular, young Malaysians, fueled by “outrage and hope” at old oligarchies and lives put on hold by economic, social, and political inequality, were key actors in Bersih rallies staged between 2011 and 2016, driven by social media platforms and networked publics, which enabled the enthusiasm of the streets to connect with and drive the movement’s online formation. In response, the then government began to use media and security laws to disrupt digital networks and engage in arrest of activists and “ordinary” citizens. This, combined with allegations that the government has used astroturfing (commonly referred to as “cybertrooping” in Malaysia) to shape voter sentiments and suppress the momentum of Bersih and popular forms of online political dissent, has been strongly condemned by human rights organizations. This article draws upon findings from PhD research on cybertroopers and ethnographic interviews conducted with 29 Malaysian-Chinese youth between 2016 and 2018 (in Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne, Australia) to map and analyze the effects of the government’s use of “affective techniques” to manipulate social media publics and crackdown on online political communication, with media reports connecting these strategies to declining participation in Bersih’s street rallies from Bersih 4-5. The article will draw on theories of “networked affect” and “affective publics” to examine the role affect has played in this downturn in participation and a growing sense of hopelessness among Malaysia’s digital citizens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Media + Society
Volume5
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).

Keywords

  • networked affect
  • networked publics
  • social media politics
  • networked social movements
  • state surveillance

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