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Why and How It’s Time to Start Taking Actions to Become More Politically Informed

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

by Chloe Lee. |

Why Is It Important to Be Politically Informed?

Day in, day out, we come across all sorts of information. We take it at surface level and assume what we read is the truth. These ‘truths’ are then reflected in the way we think and the way we make decisions.

Let’s start with a short game, all you have to do is agree or disagree with the following statement:

  1. It should be mandatory for women of all races to wear the hijab and cover up their “aurat” so men will not be seduced – Agree or Disagree?

  2. All university students should have to plant 10 trees each as part of their Community Service project – Agree or Disagree?

These two statements highlight very different social issues that could happen in Malaysia (although it hasn’t). Be it entertainment or education or abortion or human rights or environmental issues, we have the right and the position to influence what we want to happen in our country. For example, I believe it is important to help the environment in whatever ways we can; therefore, when a presidential candidate’s manifesto includes encouraging university students to plant more trees, I’ll be all for it!

On the other hand, if we don’t take an active role to decide what we agree or disagree with, our future will be shaped by people who have zero interests in what we want, believe or care for. What could be the consequence of a nonchalant attitude towards these issues? It could manifest itself in policies we don’t necessarily agree with, like making it compulsory for women of all races or beliefs to cover up.

In a democratic country, the society should be a reflection of people’s desires. If we don’t speak up, we have a bunch of people who know nothing about us, making decisions on our behalf. What does this mean? Let me illustrate with another game:

All you have to do is discern (or make your best guess) if these statements are true or false:

  1. Malaysia ranks one of the #1 in the world’s best healthcare category – True or False?

  2. The information and data you share on your social media platforms are kept private – True or False?

Now let’s break each statement down to analyze if they’re fo’ realz. Firstly, Malaysia ranks number 1 in world’s best healthcare category – half-truth. Although we certainly did get awarded with such an honor, what people missed out on was the fact that this was an International Living Annual Global Retirement Index. This means that the population that benefits from our healthcare system are retired expats that can often afford a room at private institutions and not necessarily the everyday Malaysian. Pause, take one minute and ask ourselves: what would be the potential harm a half-truth could lead to? If you took a stroll at our public hospitals, does it truly provide 5-star healthcare services? Are all who are sick and needy being given the help they need? Although we do have pretty affordable healthcare, when half-truths go viral, people then have a misrepresentation of our services.

“How does this relate to me and any forms of political participation?”, you may ask. Some of us may have the privilege to be able to afford private healthcare, however, if majority of the public didn’t recognize the true needs within the medical industry and don’t fight for improvements, it is very easy for us to be complacent and ignorant. You are able to make better judgements of who/which party to vote for when you’re aware of the real conditions people live in.

As for the second statement, Netflix recently released a documentary detailing the events of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, “The Great Hack”. In summary, Facebook knows us better than our bbf does – our likes and dislikes, where we’ve been the last few weeks, our birthdays, our favorite song, our preferred lipstick shade and our personality type. This company (or companies or organizations) then takes this information and create content that would attract and manipulate the way we view the world. It can change the way we view certain economic, social or political issues and once again influence the parties we vote for (sighs). So are you sure you’re living a quiet and private life? In fact, Instagram’s algorithm functions in such a way where it predicts what you’d like and shows you what it thinks you’ll like – so do you think you have full control over the content you come across?

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”

My mom and I as Polling and Counting Agents (PACA)

How exactly do you participate and be more informed? Here are four easy steps:

1. Vote

This is pretty self-explanatory, select the right candidates that best reflects your ideologies and what you believe in.

2. Engage in forums and have more conversations about the political climate and what you hope to change.

There are forums happening in Malaysia very often, you just need to ask around or search for it on Google. There are many passionate people who are striving to bring a change in our nation and are well equipped with knowledge and connections, all you have to do is reach out. There are also many governmental organizations that you can volunteer to be a part of, observe how their procedures are put in place, suggest ways in which systems can be improved, be open to engage in conversations (even with people who don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with you).

3. Get your facts right.

Our social media platforms form an echo chamber – we are either manipulated into believing half-truths, or we self-sabotage by subscribing to one-sided views of current issues. The only way to combat misinformation is to really just be intentional with being informed. The only way to combat corruption is to really just be intentional about exercising your democratic rights.

It’s like a game of Jumanji, you didn’t actually want to play but you’re suddenly being chased by duck-sized elephants. For whatever reasons, you decide that the political climate is too complicated and choose to stay away, but the truth is that it’s no longer something you can just ignore or avoid. You’re already participating, whether or not you like it. You’re already being told how to perceive things, you’re already being told what to favour or what to go against. You – your decisions, your mind. But this is your country, and your society and your right – time to regain control and do something.

4. Make informed decisions.

The media can frame things that do not necessarily present the entire truth – this is known as issue framing. In a study by Nelson, Rosalee and Zoe (1997), participants were found to be more supportive of a hate group rally when it was framed as an “act of free speech”. Another study observed that when such a rally was associated with risks of violence, the support reduced (Sniderman & Bullock, 2004). The combination of these three words – ‘hate’, ‘group’ and ‘rally’ – suggests that people are up to no good at all; but it can still garner support based on how the information is presented.

It’s like swiping right to a funny Tinder profile before realizing your date is actually a little cray-cray. People can paint a picture a certain way to make you perceive it in a positive or negative light. We might think that as humans, we’re smarter than that. We’re on top of the food chain, after all? In actual fact, we often tap into our heuristics, which are unconscious mental shortcuts we use to make life easier. We absentmindedly scan past information and collect them without really doubting or questioning its credibility. These framings then stay put and stain the lens in which we view things (there’s a longitudinal study conducted which found that framing effects can still be observed two weeks after participants’ initial exposure to information). The dangerous side is that these influences show up in our purchases, our decisions and our ballot boxes.

“Yet we often don’t understand just how much we’re giving up when we give up on the hard work of democracy — nor do even the staunchest defenders of democracy often enough understand how fast and hard a democracy can fall.”

- Umair Haque

The time to speak up, be informed and decide wisely is now.

This could be the conclusion, as to the extreme of it all if our generation continues to be in the dark on political topics to emphasise the importance of being politically informed.

You may find out more about Chloe on her Instagram too.

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