By Alexis See Tho
July 12, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider
Wong waved his hands in the air. “The tear gas canister was right in front of me!” he said.
The 22-year-old working adult was one of thousands of young Malaysians who went to Saturday’s rally that saw tens of thousands of people in the city centre.
Some of them weren’t die-hard supporters of Bersih’s call for clean and fair elections. Some like Wong were there “just for the fun” while others were relentless in their pursuit for the “perfect” photo.
Thousands of protestors and onlookers were at the rally with their cameras and snapped away at everything they saw. Some gung-ho ones even stood between riot police and protestors eager to get a good shot.
Sun, an avid photographer and a student at a local college, followed a reporter around so he wouldn’t get into trouble.
All that just so they can upload their recordings of a moment in history on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Bersih 2.0 leaders have said the 2007 rally attracted mostly middle-aged supporters and Malays. This time, the crowd was younger and more multi-racial.
Call them citizen journalists or just plain “kaypoh”, the information which these people, such as Tan from Petaling Jaya, gathered and put online has given an alternative but important view of the rally itself. It has crippled the ability of bigger, politically-controlled news outlets to shape public opinion.
The common perception is that these citizen journalists are activists. But Chong from Setapak, who attended the rally right after work on Saturday, said she is no activist.
“I’m here to show my support,” she said. Chong uploaded photos and updated her status on Facebook throughout the rally.
After the rally, some Malaysian netizens went further than just photos and videos. They created new campaigns in their social networks.
New Facebook groups such as “100,000 People Request Najib Tun Razak Resignation,” “Wearing Yellow and Walking Around KL cause you’re a fearless bastard,” and “Boycott all running-dogs media for Umno/BN” sprouted up and attracted thousands of “likes.”
On Twitter, a popular new hashtag is #bersihstories. Bersih rally participants are still tweeting their experiences and feelings. These include “once I thought migrating would be the only option, now I know running is no longer the agenda, I will stay & fight!” and “A Malay man who opened his hotel room to us as we ran from tear gas attack said, ‘anak muda semua kaum semangat kuat’.”
Online social networks were also primary sources of information for those going to the rally.
Wong, who joined the rally without his parents’ knowledge, said he found out about Bersih 2.0 from Facebook.
“People come to this rally because of online media, they (Malaysians) don’t trust the print media anymore,” said Wahab, an activist who works in a government agency.
He said information from news sites, blogs and social media allows Malaysians to compare what they read or watch in newspapers and television.
“If everyone listened to the mainstream media, this rally wouldn’t happen,” he added.
It is unclear if citizen journalism and social media activism will be fruitful in changing policies at the institutional level. But the rally showed that both were critical to changing how and what kind of information is spread and consumed.
But like a Facebook-er aptly put it: “They (government) can stop all mainstream media, but not us.”