On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

GE13: Cyber bullies take it out on ‘traitors’

This is a democratic country and we are free to voice our opinion. — International movie star Datuk Seri Michelle Yeoh defending her support of Barisan leader Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak This is a democratic country and we are free to voice our opinion. — International movie star Datuk Seri Michelle Yeoh defending her support of Barisan leader Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak

The anger directed at those who do not share the same political beliefs is getting out of hand, especially in cyberspace.

SOMETHING is seriously wrong with us when anyone who expresses support for the Barisan Nasional is viciously attacked by cyber bullies. And this is more so when that person happens to be from the Chinese community.

To the fanatical supporters of Pakatan Rakyat, it is an unforgivable act of treason for anyone from that community to back the Barisan government.

The impression given, unfortunately, is that the Chinese must stand up against Barisan.

It seems ironic that the other major communities – Malays and Indians who are also being courted by both sides – are not subjected to the same “us-or-them” siege mentality.

It is a dangerous trend and, if not properly addressed, the cyber bullies, emboldened by the anonymous nature of the social media, would be further encouraged to intensify their attacks.

Their most high-profile target to date is international actress Datuk Seri Michelle Yeoh who is being vilified in cyberspace simply because she has exercised her democratic right to support the Barisan. She has made no secret of the fact that Barisan is her choice and that she genuinely believes Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is the best person to lead the country.

The whole point of having a general election is that the people are given freedom to choose who they think is the best political party to govern the country. Whether a voter chooses to support Barisan or Pakatan, that fundamental right must be respected.

Those who are Net-savvy, more than any other category of people, should be aware that it is a given in any democracy that cele­brities lend support to political parties.

Just check out the full list of actors and actresses, athletes, Nobel Prize laureates, etc, who openly endorsed either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in their race to the White House. These are people whose appeal cut across all divides, yet they were not castigated when they openly stated their choice during the last US presidential election.

But here in Malaysia, when you do that, you risk being labelled as a running dog or traitor, and these are pretty mild terms when compared to other unprintable labels hurled at Barisan supporters. And you don’t even have to be a member of the ruling coalition.

One recent example was when pro-Opposition cyber troopers uploaded a photograph of a woman and accompanied it with harsh and vulgar comments.

The woman, a committee member of the Malaysian Youth Rights Movement, was also threatened with gang rape and murder over her stand on some issues.

We appear to be heading towards a fascist state, in cyberspace at least, when groups who do not share your political ideals will shout you down and punish you.

Incredibly, these cyber bullies have all along been telling us that they are fighting for freedom of expression and democracy, which they strongly feel are ideals missing from this country. Yet, they have become more monstrous than those who they claim are shackling our democratic liberties.

Blame it on the silly season or the heat of the elections but surely we as Malaysians must be able to conduct ourselves in a moderate manner instead of fanatically shouting down anyone who has a different viewpoint.

I am not spared either. I have received numerous e-mail ordering me to “repent” because I am seen to be inclined to the Barisan, which to these psychologically disturbed people is a sin to the church and congregation, thus the need to seek “forgiveness”.

It does not help when some pastors use the pulpit to deliver sermons and prayers which are skewed towards a certain party. What is worse, in some cases, are those pastors who parrot allegations picked up at ceramah and the social media without verifying the facts first.

Granted that we are all interested in the general election and all the issues that have been raised. This is a healthy development in a changing political landscape, but we need to remind ourselves that everyone is entitled to his or her choice.

There seems to be a “stereotype” mentality that if you fall within certain categories – race, religion, occupation, place of residence – your political affiliation is already confirmed.

And so we are inundated with similar e-mail each morning from friends and strangers who simply forward the mail without a thought to our real political leanings.

The social media has allowed many of us to connect through forums that bring together people who go to the same schools or universities, and come from similar professions and who share the same hobbies. Yet, even in these seemingly innocent forums, throw in a bit of politics, and people start to fight.

And what about those who are attacked simply by association? As one Barisan candidate told a forum at a church, the children and wives become targets even when they are not involved at all in politics.

Why do we place more importance on politicians rather than our friends, colleagues, neighbours or employers?

Long after the dust has settled, when we become ordinary people in an ordinary world, we will learn that most of the newly elected YBs will no longer be free to see to our needs.

The person who is all smiles while seeking your vote will suddenly be too busy to even take an appointment then. But the people you have forsaken in this short but silly season will be the ones who rally around you in your time of need.

I believe we should all be passionate about what we stand for, but let us also at the same time accord the same respect to those who think otherwise. Isn’t that what real democracy is all about, be it at home, the workplace, our place of worship or society at large?

For more election stories, please visit The Star’s GE13 site