Social media, the globe, and #Bersih3 – a report

If you haven’t heard of it already, #Bersih3 is a Malaysian battle cry that’s calling for free and fair national elections – you can read more about it here.

As a movement, #Bersih3 has taken the world by storm, with rallies taking place simultaneously, all over the world – with 85 rallies being held across the world on April 28th, 2012.

Essentially, what they’re calling for are free and fair elections to be held in Malaysia, and they seek to reform the current electoral process in Malaysia to be more transparent. Their demands the previous year (Bersih 2.0) are as follows:

1. Clean the electoral roll
2. Reform postal ballots
3. Use of indelible ink
4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
5. Free and fair access to media
6. Strengthen public institutions
7. Stop corruption
8. Stop dirty politics

The demands of Bersih 3.0 this year are:

1. The current Electoral Commission must resign
2. Meet all 8 demands before the 2013 General Election
3. Invite international observers for the 2013 General Election

In Australia alone, the estimated number of participants were in the thousands, which is extraordinary considering how the rally impacted Malaysia alone. Academics, socialists, politicians, media and – largely – the Malaysian diaspora – participated in a movement that was globally enabled by social media.

According to Radian6, there have been 159,165 mentions of the #bersih hashtag, the @bersih3 Twitter accounts, and its variants, all across the social web – globally.

Malaysia’s press freedom is currently ranked at 143 of 196 countries surveyed, and social media has played critical role for the dissemination of information, mobilisation of supporters and transmission of real-time updates from Bersih organisers, and between stakeholders, advocates, detractors, and participants of the event.

Due to intense government control of mainstream media, organisers and proponents of the rally have taken to social media in order to communicate to their stakeholders and to rally support. Why? Beyond the obvious reason that social media is far harder to police, Bersih organisors understood that the rally critically needed support from the people of Malaysia. And what better way to do that than a dialogue that is facilitated by Twitter, Facebook, and blogging? Ms Tricia Yeoh, a researcher cited in this article, said that “social media provides people a common space to identify themselves together and publicly was the drive for this social movement.” She believes that “social media allowed people to know about current issues in addition to enabling frustrated Malaysians overseas to participate in Bersih rallies that took place in the respective countries they were in, which sparked an international Bersih movement. It also pushed fence sitters into a corner and made debates more visible and highly interactive.”

The report below reflects the impact and power of social media in the transmission of information of and about the event globally.

Photo: Meld Magazine

These 159,165 mentions have achieved a total reach of 200,499,725 Twitter impressions (number of mentions x number of each user’s followers). For perspective, the population of Malaysia currently sits at 28,401,017 according to the World Bank – meaning that the global number of impressions from Twitter alone would have reached every individual living in Malaysia – 7 times.

Pretty impressive, considering that currently, only 2.6% Malaysians have access to the internet (according to Wikipedia, a 1998 statistic) – or 738,426 Malaysians. If you take the total number of Twitter impressions globally, and divide them by the number of Malaysian with access to the internet, this would mean that every Malaysian with access to the internet would have individually encountered about 272 mentions of the Bersih event in the past 30 days – on Twitter alone.

Compare this with the estimated 75,000 Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that were physically present in the rally [source].

The breakdown by media type shows that Twitter held by far the largest share of conversation – 99.4% of all global conversation took place on the micromedia platform. In fact, you’ll see that social media (i.e. excluding mainstream news websites, grouped under “Other”) constituted a shocking 99.9% of all conversation about the Bersih rally globally, eclipsing mainstream news coverage of the event (20 articles in the past 30 days).

The graph above shows a breakdown of locations – showing where the conversations about Bersih were happening. Unsurprisingly, the largest amount of the conversation took place in Malaysia – but there were also 59,196 mentions of Bersih outside of Malaysia, which is 37.2% of the total conversation.

The region that held the second-largest share of conversation was the United States, with 43,847 mentions, likely due to the large amount of global coverage of the event. Interesting to note are the large number of mentions of Bersih outside Asia – a surprising result. There were 46,382 mentions of the Bersih hashtags and Twitter accounts in the US, UK and Australia alone – 29.6% of the global conversation. This might be due to the large number of Malaysians residing in these countries, as there are an estimated 1,000,000 Malaysians who currently live abroad, according to the World Bank.

The graph above is a breakdown of languages that have mentioned the Bersih hashtags or Twitter accounts in the past 30 days – Malay, the national language, is not represented as on this graph due to the low volume of mentions that have purely utilised the language. The overwhelming majority of the conversation was in English, and all the languages following are – interestingly – European language variants, showing the permeation of the issue in conversation all over the world.

The #Bersih3 rally in Malaysia took place at 2pm Malaysia time. The graph above shows a peak of conversation that shows at 1pm on April 28th (Sydney time) – which is 11am Malaysian time on the same day (2 hours prior to the rally in Malaysia).

This means that the graph above is not reflective of the likely flurry of conversation that took place, real-time, during the event at 2pm – which is likely to be a much larger volume of conversation compared to the build up to the event at 11am.

The conversation on Twitter that took place at on April 28th alone has achieved a total of 98,570,653 global Twitter impressions.That’s 3.47x the total number of people in Malaysia.


The Bersih rally is just the latest, current, example of how social media has been able to mobilise the global village around a political cause that may affect sincere and resounding political change. What other examples have you seen of social media impacting a movement, or influenced government policy?

The full list of keywords used in Radian6, a social media monitoring platform, for this report are as below: