'This will be the WhatsApp election': Crypto-publics and digital citizenship in Malaysia's GE14 election
This paper draws on data collected with Malaysian–Chinese activists and everyday citizens (aged 18–24) who used WhatsApp groups to discuss politically contentious views and actions between 2016 and 2018, prior to the GE14 election. The paper will reveal the extent to which WhatsApp enabled a ‘safe space’ for citizens to engage in political chat and activism in a context of government censorship and surveillance of more open social media platforms. A key finding is that the state’s use of the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act to take legal action against citizens engaging in political dissent on social media produced ‘chilling effects’, leading to changes in the styles and repertoires of civic and political action adopted by participants. This was registered in a shift away from public-facing social media (Twitter, Facebook) toward use of encrypted group chat on WhatsApp and, to a lesser extent, Telegram to shape new publics, which I examine in the paper using the concept of ‘crypto-publics’.
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