TMI: Boosted by social media, activists reclaim space for causes

Shannon Teoh weaves social media and its use into the promotion of modern-day causes in Malaysia in a ‘feature-ish’ report on 23 October 2011 originally published here.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 23 — Around 10pm last night at the DiGi headquarters in the Subang Hi-Tech Park, the Guinness Book of Records officially announced a new record for the number of “tweeps” at a “twtup”.

At least 2,615 users of micro-blogging site Twitter had turned up at the “OctTwtFest,” a gathering that began as a giant birthday party last year to being an event to celebrate nothing more than “how influential social media can be” this year.

It was influential enough for top politicians such as Pemandu CEO Datuk Seri Idris Jala, PKR vice president Nurul Izzah Anwar and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin to turn up while artistes such as rockers Hujan and rappers Altimet and Joe Flizzow performed for free.

“This was a ground up event, reclaiming space and coming together to ‘humanise’ the interactivity of social media. This shows how influential social media can be and can become,” said Zain HD, one of the OctTwtFest coordinators.

But with the Klang Valley seeing several gatherings yesterday, three events organised by activists saw fortunes that correlated closely to the hype built on social media.

For cancer awareness programme Passionately You and democratic reforms movement Occupy Dataran, the tweets with their respective “hashtags,” #dontduckit and #occupydataran on Twitter dwarfed the actual turnout at their events.

“You can host as many events as you want but with a social media presence, you can own a new space for discussion,” said Christopher Tock, digital media consultant for Passionately You.

While only a few hundred turning up at its day-long event, Passionately You saw about 5,000 pledges and donations made towards cervical and breast cancer awareness on its website.

On the other hand, the Himpunan Sejuta Umat (Himpun), or Gathering of a Million Faithful, fell somewhat short of rallying its stated target to stand up to the threat of proselytising by Christians.

Despite claiming the support of over 1,000 NGOs, only 5,000 Muslims turned up, inviting ridicule from influential “tweeps” such as Art Harun, who posted: “About 5,000 at Himpun. Hope the 995,000 people have not been proselytised while on the way there.”

Occupy Dataran, which has met every Saturday night at Dataran Merdeka since July, saw as usual just several dozen show up.

However,  after financial reform movement Occupy Wall Street made headlines around the world last week, the local initiative became the topic of much debate by urbanites on both Facebook and Twitter.

“It heightened awareness and got people to take a view and discuss the question of direct decision making by people,” said participant Edmund Bon.

But the lawyer warned that “social media is just a tool.”

“There is a high level of connection but conversion is still low without old school contact points such as phone calls or meeting at the mamak stall,” said the organiser of another activist group UndiMsia!, which aims “to build participatory opportunities for young Malaysians.”



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