ISMEC: On political figures and their media strategies

By Maisarah Mijar

GOMBAK, 29 September 2018 – Politicians are increasingly using the social media platform to boost their image and profile, particularly in the build-up to the recent 14th General Election (GE) in May recently, participants of International Seminar on Media and Communication (ISMEC) 2018 were told on Tuesday (25 September).

In a study by IIUM lecturer, Dr. Shafizan Mohamed, titled “Instagram and political storytelling among Malaysian politicians during 14th GE”,  it was revealed that Instagram became a popular platform for  politicians in their storytelling approach to engage their supporters.

Shafizan said that following her analysis of the Instagram pages of three prominent politicians – Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (Pakatan Harapan), Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Razak (BN) and Tuan Guru Abdul Hadi Awang (PAS) –  it was discovered that the pictures posted represent or portray not only the professional / official side of their life but also their private and family life, and community engagement that tell the human aspects of politicians.

“Their Instagram pages indicated their approach at humanising and touching the soft spots of their followers,” Shafizan highlighted. Her research was based on postings on Instagram by these political figures within the first two months prior to the general election on May 9.

Shafizan said: “It is not only about direct campaigning. They are naturally engaged in storytelling, focusing more as human individuals, rather than in their official capacity as politicians.”

“They posted pictures of them in the course of performing their work. Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, for example, had a posting throwing back to his past to remind followers that he has been in the field for a long time. And there was also a picture of him with his wife, Tun Hasmah, which showed romanticism of the couple and the personality of the politician. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak had a picture of a pet cat, among others, to show the other side of the politician.  In Hadi Awang’s page, casual pictures showing his engagement with his supporters were spotted,” Shafizan added.

Meanwhile, using carnivalesque concept (a concept that turns public opinion into humour), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Che Mahzan Ahmad of IIUM highlighted the pattern used by an individual, Hishamuddin Rais, who is a social activist, a stand-up comedian and a film director, behind the Bersih (a coalition of NGOs fighting for fair and clean election) rally. Dr. Che Mahzan gave his views in a presentation titled “Malaysia GE14: Dramaturgical and carnival in my smartphone”.

According to Che Mahzan, Hishamuddin Rais in his web blog, Tukar Tiub, often tells political humour of  public figures. He added that Hishamuddin had also predicted before the GE14 that Pakatan Harapan would win the election.

Dr. Faizal Kasmani of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM), on the other hand, enlightened the audience on his research titled “Why do people Tweet: Analysis of #PRU14″. He said the Twitter users’ tweets during GE14 did not determine their attitudes/specialties and that most of the top tweets were the ones mostly from social influencers who have followers up to ten thousand to 4 million.

To a question raised by Dr. Jessa Salathong of Chulalongkorn University during Q & A session on her paper regarding usage of Instagram by politicians, Shafizan said: “I am unsure of the person behind the account of political leaders but what I acknowledge was that Malaysia’s former PM professed that he had the best team in managing the social media account.” ***

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