Research on Malaysian Bloggers

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Recommendations for the National Alliance of Bloggers

I may include this in the conclusion of my thesis, so please bear with the apparent dryness of the passage! I'd be super grateful if you would care to leave any comments of assent or dissent.


The National Alliance of Bloggers (NAB) was set up on April 5, 2007, towards the completion of this thesis. Some 50 bloggers gathered at the National Press Club to discuss the necessity of forming the Alliance, and proceeded to elect a pro-tem committee to register a formal association, with physical premises, office bearers and subscription for members.

Based on the findings of this thesis, the author would like to suggest some recommendations to the NAB, which is essentially the crystallization of the virtual community into a physical entity which has the potential of leading the Malaysian blogosphere towards higher ideals of blog ethics and constructive dialogue with the authorities. On the other hand, improper management or marketing may shape the Alliance into an antagonistic character constantly against the establishment or national unity, hence affecting blogs’ ability to generate useful discourse and their credibility at large.

Objectives of the NAB
It is of utmost importance that the NAB should base the aims of its existence at a higher level, towards promoting and protecting freedom of expression and information. It should be recognized that although the formation of the Alliance was catalyzed by the lawsuit against bloggers, it is not an entity built in defiance to the authorities, but rather an entity which embraces blogging as a platform to enable civil liberties. The vision of the Alliance has to reflect the bigger picture, i.e. to pave the direction towards a more democratic and progressive Malaysia.

It was mentioned in a blog post of Ahirudin Attan, president of the pro-tem committee of NAB, that the Alliance has two major objectives, i.e. to promote blogging and to protect bloggers. It is clarified that the Alliance will try to engage the authorities and to protect bloggers against lawsuits, and to promote all forms of blogging.

Promoting blogging
There are two distinct target groups that the NAB should focus upon to promote blogging, i.e. the authorities and the non-bloggers. It is necessary to engage the authorities (or more specifically, the government) because it is important for them to be aware that bloggers are not as depicted by certain politicians, and that the feedback available on the Internet can be very useful to public policymaking. As for non-bloggers, they should be educated about the positive aspects of blogging instead of seeing the blogosphere as a massive clout of anti-establishment voices.

Hence, significant image marketing, rebranding even, is pivotal to the successful promotion of blogging by the NAB. In this case, it is inconsequential whether the bloggers within the NAB are misunderstood patriotic martyrs or otherwise, because the negative perception itself will form a barrier against understanding blogging. After establishing a moderate and credible image, the NAB should act as a platform in bringing together the government, bloggers, mainstream media and other factions of civil society by organizing talks or dialogues in triggering effective change in the country’s policies.

Engaging the Malaysian blogosphere
The findings of this thesis paints the representation of the Malaysian bloggers to be fairly young (84.5% of bloggers are aged 28 and below), and are avid readers of blogs, printed newspapers and fiction. Although this thesis gives emphasis to the sociopolitical group of bloggers within the Malaysian blogosphere, they only form 6% out of the total 852 bloggers within the sample size. If the NAB is serious on promoting (responsible) blogging and forging a united front of Malaysian bloggers, it has to engage the other 94% of the blogosphere. The NAB will only be able to collect a critical mass of bloggers by bridging the fragmentation of the Malaysian blogosphere across language, age range, blog content and political inclinations.

The blogosphere must not be forced into a framework dictated by the NAB, instead the NAB should try to preserve the diversity of the blogosphere as it is, with only a general guideline of the do’s and don’ts provided. In other words, it should be recognized and encouraged that blogging is a personal activity for self-expression or any other motivation that the blogger sees fit. This is a crucial criterion for NAB to garner the acceptance of bloggers in general. Further marketing is naturally needed to persuade the bloggers to become members of the NAB.

Protecting bloggers
Protection of bloggers has to be proactive in the sense of equipping them with necessary knowledge of legal implications of what they write, and a general code of ethics to abide by. As the NAB will be championing for freedom of expression, self-regulation will have to balance on the thin line between allowing as much room of expression possible, and maintaining a certain standard of responsibility of blogging. In the event of a lawsuit against a blogger, the NAB will be able to provide support in terms of legal advice and a consolidated group of voices, but the NAB should also respect the right of seeking redress by the plaintiffs.

The NAB has the potential to link the entire social network of Malaysian blogs for efficient communication of vital information and constructive opinions for the country’s progress, from the grassroots level to policymakers. As mentioned in earlier sections of the thesis, the networks within the blogosphere can amplify important signals while suppressing noise through communication. The opportunity to get heard can infuse the youth of the country with a sense of empowerment that they are able to participate in steering the country towards a better direction.

Granted, the present framework of the government administration may need more time to adapt to the fast-changing landscape due to globalization, and its gradual inability of containing information of public interest. Thus, the NAB will have to shoulder the responsibility to educate the government about blogging, and concurrently prepare the blogosphere towards mature discourse and consciousness about its role in a democratic society.