The Twitterjayas @twt_malaysia

There is much that we can learn from each other, says Syahredzan.

It started with @sweden. Every week, a different Swede would tweet from the @sweden Twitter account. This became the very first Twitter ‘rotation-curation’ project. Before long, other countries joined in the fray with their own rotationcuration projects and a worldwide phenomenon was born.

The idea behind rotation-curation is to give a weekly snapshot to the world of the many different citizens of that particular country. By following the rotation-curation account for that country, you can catch a glimpse, through Twitter, of the people of that country. 

Malaysia’s own rotation-curation project, @twt_malaysia was the brainchild of Stevie Chan (@YouTiup). The account @twt_malaysia now has about about 17,000 followers and nearly 75,000 tweets since it started in June last year. 

60 different people have curated the account at the time of writing. Most are Malaysians, but there are those who are non-Malaysians living in Malaysia. Some Malaysian curators reside outside of Malaysia. The youngest curator was 16 years old when he curated while the oldest was more than 50 years old during her stint. They come from the west coast, the east coast and even further, from East Malaysia. 

Writers (in various capacities) and students (of various disciplines) dominate the account, with lawyers coming in second. We also saw a couple of celebrities, a chef, a retailer, a vet, a baker, a banker, a stockbroker, a multitasker and (in her own words) a full time lover, as curators for @twt_malaysia.

I joined Twitter sometime in 2009. It was after the so-called ‘Twitter revolution’ of Iran, when Iranians protested against the re-election of the then president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Twitter was still new to Malaysians at that time and I was even lucky enough to participate in what was probably the first Malaysian ‘tweetup’ (tweetup = Twitter meet up), way before tweetups were ‘uncool’ as they are now. 

I witnessed Twitterjaya, the Malaysian Twitter community, grow from just another way of expression of individual status to a bona fide medium for discourse. The social aspects of Twitter have evolved into a socio-political gauge of national sentiments. Twitter has been used to rally the masses and as a political campaigning tool. Along with other social media mediums, Twitter has successfully democratised information in Malaysia. 

But observers and commentators have made the mistake of measuring sentiments on Twitter and assume that they represent the nation as a whole. Outside of Twitterjaya, there are many whose views are markedly different from connected to social media. They represent a significant section of society. Even within Twitterjaya itself, we have made the mistake of assuming that there is some semblance of homogeny within the community. That despite the diversity, many on Twitter share the same values and worldview our own. We have assumed that Malaysian Twitter users belong to a certain demographic.

So for example, we think that a certain issue is of national importance because we think it is important and because the people on our timeline think that it is important. So we start using words like ‘the rakyat’ and ‘right-thinking Malaysians’  to describe those in agreement with us when we advocate our views on a certain matter. 

In actual fact, there are many Twitterjayas out there. You do not have to look far; just look at what is ‘trending’ in Malaysia and you will be scratching your heads as none of those phrases ever show up your own timeline. If we thought Twitterjaya represented a certain slice of Malaysiana, the reality is that Twitter users represent several different slices. There is more than one Twitterjaya.

The variety of @twt_malaysia curators itself is an example of how diverse Malaysian Twitter users are. But over and above that, @twt_malaysia is actually the bridge that connects these different Twitterjayas.

Yes, the 17,000 followers of @twt_malaysia are less than the 22,000 followers of @1Obefiend, a former curator. It is miniscule compared to the 1.5mil followers of @LisaSurihani. But crucially, these 17,000 cover a broad section of Malaysia’s Twitter community. In other words, the followers of @twt_malaysia belong to many different Twitterjayas. 

So through the interactions of the curators with the account followers, we witnessed how truly diverse Malaysia’s Twitter users are. We saw how some saluted the courage of certain curators to discuss certain issues and at the same time others condemned the same curator for bringing up the same issue. We saw how some demanded that curators tweet in the national language, while others pushed for more tweets in English since the account is followed worldwide. We saw views expressed which are not agreeable to us, even some that seemed incredible or ridiculous, but were no less legitimate just because we did not share the same views. 

In a nation where people have for the longest time shied away from discourse and debates for fear of offending others and disturbing sensitivities, discovering ourselves is an important step towards nation building. Sure, many a time our reactions to something disagreeable from @twt_malaysia or its followers have been criticism, condemnation or ridicule. But there are also times when it has lead to meaningful discourse and discussions.

This is the biggest success of the rotation-curation project. Through it, Malaysians are learning about each other. It may not be pretty. It may in the end be just limited to those on Twitter. Yet, it must still take place. Like looking into the mirror and discovering the many imperfections of our bodies and finally coming to terms with them, so too must we look at ourselves and accept our many differences.

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