Time to take a bow for the “Bossku” show that had many going
It is unsurprising that all was peaceful and quiet at the court complex as the former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak returned to the dock last week. None of the large crowds that had gathered outside of the Palace of Justice on 16 August 2022 were to be seen.
The show that was put up really had many going. Some analysts have claimed that the former Prime Minister (PM) is a “juggernaut” on social media, the butt of jokes and memes online. Some even go so far as to say that Najib is still popular and that the impact of the label “court cluster”, which refers to the group of prominent Umno leaders who are either on trial or convicted of money laundering and/or abuse of power, is insignificant.
Are they right?
The “Malu Apa Bossku” campaign was started by cybertroopers, in protest against the announcement that the scandal plagued former PM will be tried for his involvement in the 1MDB scandal. The ex-PM understands the importance of spreading and magnifying disinformation to control the information space. He has a track record of spreading falsehoods and is widely known to be the “father” of cybertroopers. To name a few examples, leaked files showed the then Najib-led UMNO used Cambridge Analytica to influence voters in Malaysia’s 2013 polls. The SCL Group (Cambridge Analytica parent company) also attempted to influence voting in the 14th General Election (GE14). Further, ahead of the GE14, bots flood Twitter with over 17,000 pro-Najib led government content. Recently, the former PM Najib Razak has engaged US based PR firm Karv for media relations support for US$140,000 (RM 600,000) for a mere 2 months of work following damaging revelations being made in the US court about former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal. Back in the Barisan Nasional administration, the special affairs department (JASA) was alleged to have allocated more than RM 80 million for pro-Najib-led government propaganda work.
Counting the cost of 1MDB
Podcasts from a panel discussion on Malaysia’s political polarisation.
Last week, it became clear that the perception that Najib has huge public support is false. The picture has been painted with the intention to whitewash and the legacy of his administration.
However, it remains really concerning that many Malaysians did believe in this facade despite considerable evidence that showed it was untrue, for example, that 56.89% voters rejected the Barisan Nasional government in the Johor State Election. This again proves the danger of disinformation. It is especially worrying considering the recent Meta announcement that they had removed over 600 accounts for spreading pro-government propaganda, linked to the Malaysian police force, with an aim to manipulate public discourse.
So, what can Malaysians learn from this incident?
First, Malaysians must be more vigilant against information manipulation. The former PM’s propaganda will not stop here; he is likely to fund disinformation to push for his royal pardon. Next time, Malaysians should not fall for it.
Second, Malaysians need to keep a watchful eye on racial and religious rhetoric that shifts public discourse away from corruption and abuse of power. This is especially so in light of the impending 15th General Election.
Third, there is an urgent need for more media reforms to prevent the use of cybertroopers, biased media and disinformation to muddle public discussion. We need the establishment of an independent Malaysian Media Council (MMC) to regulate problematic media content. We also need an independent body to work with social media companies to formulate transparent regulatory standards on hate speech and disinformation. This will allow effective crack-downs on cybertroopers and hate speech, and prevent Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) from using oppressive laws to force social media companies to remove content in order to further the interests of those in powerful positions.
23 August 2022 was a momentous day for Malaysians as the former PM went to jail after losing his appeal. In that historic moment we witnessed that no one, not even political elites like the ex-PM, is above the law. In Mariam Mohktar’s words, Najib has used up all of his nine lives, and he needs to reap what he sowed. No matter how hard the scandal plagued ex-PM tries, he can never erase the fact that he is guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and breach of trust.
Since his conviction, the false image of Najib’s popularity has crumbled, and the curtains are finally closing on the “Malu Apa Bossku” show.