PETALING JAYA: Online campaigning on TikTok and WhatsApp is shaping up to be the crucial battleground for politicians across the divide to influence young votes ahead of the polling day on Nov 19.

In addition to posting on Facebook, Twitter, and even blogs, politicians are using short videos on social media sites like TikTok and WhatsApp to reach the almost 1.4 million 18 to 20-year-olds who will be voting for the first time.

Political and social media analyst Prof Sara Chinnasamy said the “Internet election” has made waves in the country since 2008, but this time TikTok and WhatsApp would take centrestage.

“All political parties use short videos and simple explanations on social media to manage their election campaigns,” she said.

She added that social media is a culture now among the youths today, and if the political parties did not embrace this, they would be left out and not be able to promote policies, campaign materials and their manifestos.

Sara said there are many fencesitters among the younger Malaysian voters, and they are from rural areas. Social media is the best way to reach out to and embrace them.

Sara said the Internet election phenomenon is not new to Malaysia, as the 2008 general election saw politicians rely heavily on the online medium.

“The 2013 election was known as the social media polls because every platform was used to disseminate information, and in 2018, it was known as the Facebook general election.

“This year, TikTok has become popular across all age groups, and the medium promoting its content is WhatsApp,” added Sara.

Sara said TikTok was heavily used during the German, Colombian, the Philippines and US elections.

In the run-up to the 15th General Election, Sara said Tiktok is shaping up to be a major incubator for unfounded and misleading statements peddled in local politics.

“With a huge platform reach, short videos, as well as powerful and complex algorithms, it can be a challenge to curb inaccurate claims,” said Sara.

Sara urged politicians to use healthy and ethical content based on facts and figures to generate a good perception among voters.

“This will increase voters’ confidence towards all politicians and parties,” she said.

Taking heed from the 2018 general election, Sara said political parties shouldn’t use social media platforms to spread “political hate content”.

She said the negative campaigns could create distrust among voters in the national political system, leading to a rise in fencesitter voters and those who decided not to cast their ballot.

“The dissemination of information must be ethical because voter maturity has been tested since the 2013 general election.”

Political pundit Dr Tunku Mohar Tunku Mohd Mokhtar of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), said it is important for political parties to have the correct social media strategies to mobilise support.

“In the 14th General Election, we saw how social media helped mobilise support for political parties. This is because most voters have mobile phones and can easily access social media,” she said.

Universiti Sains Malaysia senior lecturer Dr Azmil Mohd Tayeb said almost no party or candidate could win if they did not have an active social media presence.

Candidates and parties can use social media to fire up their bases and maybe on the fence voters to support them,” he said.

As the Nov 19 polling day approaches, candidates who at one time did not seem to be social media savvy are now beginning to post videos of their work actively on TikTok and Facebook.

Some leaders are using music, videos and hashtags to make their content more noticeable among Malaysians, while others are actively engaging in online conversations and comments with their followers and detractors.

This is the final part of a three-day coverage on more than a million young voters in the electoral role where The Star attempts to decode the youth psyche on national politics.