Citing 1MDB fallout, study finds Twitter users no longer believe Putrajaya

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(Aug 20): Distrust of Putrajaya on Twitter is so low because of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, says a local social media research firm, adding that whatever Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak or Putrajaya says does not gain traction.

The findings of Politweet on how the 1MDB scandal played out comes as Najib fights off calls to resign due to mismanagement of the state-owned investor and for receiving RM2.6 billion into his personal bank accounts as political donations.

Misinformation about 1MDB on Twitter reached a point where people still thought that the RM2.6 billion was linked to 1MDB despite the fact that this had been denied by the authorities, the firm said.

“Misinformation is readily accepted as truth as long as it reinforces existing beliefs. An anonymous user is perceived to have more credibility than a government agency.

“False statements circulating online have succeeded in becoming the truth because Najib’s supporters and 1MDB’s defenders do not have the same reach on Twitter.

“Corrections and clarifying statements do not reach the masses, allowing them to be influenced by more popular users,” said Politweet in a blog post today on its study of perceptions on 1MDB and Najib.

The firm also warned that a clampdown on social media, which had been proposed by the newly appointed communications and multimedia minister, might have a limited effect on curbing fake news and could backfire if Putrajaya started harassing influential users.

“Police reports may work for fake accounts such as @BeritaTV3,” Politweet said, referring to a Twitter account known for spreading false news under the guise of popular television station TV3.

“However attempts to control social media or harass influential users will likely result in negative backlash and users turning to more private networks (such as) WhatsApp and Facebook,” Politweet said.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak said Putrajaya would meet with social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to block “false information and rumours” on their platforms.

Politweet said the negativity towards Najib cannot be blamed on influential Twitter users only but on a culmination of events and factors beyond 1MDB such as the falling value of the ringgit and cost of living issues.

“These influential users know how to capitalise on these events to increase negative sentiments. They often leverage on real events to keep users outraged,” the research firm said.

The study also found that former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was more effective at keeping people interested in 1MDB compared to opposition politicians such as PKR's Rafizi Ramli and Tony Pua from DAP.

This is even though Dr Mahathir was a relative latecomer to the issue compared to Rafizi and Pua, who have been railing against 1MDB since 2011.

The allegations against 1MDB  has been widely shared on Twitter since May, when critics alleged that pilgrims fund Lembaga Tabung Haji bought land at the Tun Razak Exchange to bail out 1MDB.

Talk on the state investor reached a boiling point in July when The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report published exposes on fund transfers amounting to US$681 million (RM2.6 billion) into Najib’s personal bank accounts and the Cabinet reshuffle in which Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was sacked as deputy prime minister.

Another 1MDB-related development which provoked the most responses on Twitter was when Najib was absent at the #Nothing2Hide dialogue, which was also attended by Dr Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir, who took to the stage after Najib's no-show, was stopped from addressing the crowd. – The Malaysian Insider