The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA/TPP) is a free trade agreement between 12 countries with a combined market of 800 million people and combined GDP of USD 27.5 trillion . TPPA negotiations began in March 2010 with Malaysia becoming the 9th member in October 2010. The countries involved in the agreement are:
- United States
- New Zealand
In Malaysia 2 anti-TPPA protest rallies (called #BantahTPPA) were held on January 23rd 2016 :
- A PAS-led protest held at Padang Merbok (KL) and estimated to have 4,000 protesters
- A protest composed of student activists, civil society leaders, Opposition party leaders and supporters along Jalan Parlimen near Dataran Merdeka. The crowd was estimated to contain 500 protesters.
After a 2-day debate in Parliament the TPPA was approved on January 27th. The TPPA was signed in Auckland, New Zealand on February 4th .
2. Our Analysis
We performed opinion-based analysis on 600 users based in Malaysia who tweeted about the TPPA and related terms from January 18th – February 8th 2016. The margin of error is +/- 4%.
Users were selected based on their tweet content and activity during this period. Sampling was done per-state based on the current estimated user population.
Spammers, news agencies and accounts with automated tweets were not included in the sample.
From this dataset we analysed the individual Twitter user timelines to determine their opinion. This took their tweets, retweets and conversations into account. Only users who had an opinion about the TPPA were used in the sample.
Our goal was to gauge public support by Twitter users in Malaysia for the TPPA. As this was a complex trade agreement our expectation was that the result would be heavily weighted towards not supporting the TPPA.
This is because the average person would find the document difficult to comprehend and relate to their own interests. It would be easier to dismiss it and not comment on it. Conversations about the TPPA would therefore likely be driven by politically partisan people and users looking for simple answers. Given the level of distrust of government sources of information, it is possible for such users to be manipulated.
Therefore the percentage of users opposing the TPPA has less value than the details. Identifying the most popular reasons for opposing the TPPA would prove insightful.
Based on this analysis we categorised users as belonging to one of the following categories:
- Don’t Support
Users who did not support the TPPA expressed a variety of reasons. Based on samples of the data we determined the most frequently mentioned reasons. The popular reasons for opposing the TPPA were then grouped into the following categories:
- Fear of Colonisation & Loss of Sovereign Rights
- Exaggerated Fears / Propaganda
- Competition & Foreign Labour
- Distrust of Government / BN
- Increases in Price of Medicine
- Economic Burden Similar to GST
- Islamic Reasons
The results are shown in the following charts.
Popular Reasons for Not Supporting the TPPA
This chart shows the number of users who expressed opinions belonging to each category. The categories are not mutually exclusive. Users who expressed opinions from any category count towards that category, so there is overlap. This is important to remember because users tended to express multiple reasons for opposing the TPPA.
|(% of Total Users)
|(% of Non- Supporting Users)
|Fear of Colonisation & Loss of Sovereign Rights
|Exaggerated Fears / Propaganda
|Competition & Foreign Labour
|Distrust of Government / BN
|Increases in Price of Medicine
|Economic Burden Similar to GST
The explanation for each category is in the next section.
What follows are the findings for each category.
62 users (10.33%)
These users supported the TPPA. Main reasons for this were:
- Better job and business opportunities for Malaysians
- Good for domestic economy
- Believed the benefits outweigh the costs
- Didn’t support simplistic arguments for such a complex issue
- Critical of people who don’t want to face challenges posed by having more competitors
- Trusted BN leaders
A number of users initially opposed the TPPA but changed their minds once they studied the agreement or attended briefings.
42 users (7.00%)
These users were unsure whether to support or oppose the TPPA. Most of them hoped the agreement would benefit Malaysia.
3.3 Fear of Colonisation & Loss of Sovereign Rights
251 users (41.83%)
These users considered the TPPA to be a form of colonisation by foreign powers (the United States) or American imperialism. They feared the loss of Malaysia’s sovereign rights and disapproved of multi-national corporations and America being given economic advantages.
Not all users were specifically anti-America but they were concerned about colonisation by a foreign power. Other opinions expressed by this group include:
- The belief that the rights and assets of the country were ‘being sold’ (to foreign corporations and/or America).
- Distrust of the American government
- Did not wish America to have controlling influence over our economy
- Did not understand why Malaysia should help America’s (failing) economy
- Believed Malaysia’s ability to pass legislation and regulations would be threatened (sovereign rights issue)
- Concerned on the potential negative impact of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS)
- A minority considered the TPPA to be part of a Jewish/Israeli agenda.
3.4 Competition & Foreign Labour
131 users (21.83%)
These users expressed concern about Malaysia’s ability to compete with trade partners under the TPPA and foreigners affecting the local economy.
The most popular opinions being expressed by these users were:
- Malaysian businesses are not capable of competing with corporations
- Malaysia’s economy is weak now
- Malaysians cannot compete with foreign workers so it will be harder to find employment locally. This is due to:
- foreign workers accept lower wages
- foreign workers are more qualified for professional jobs
- Malaysia is a small developing nation that cannot compete with larger economies in other countries; they can overtake us on production volume alone
- foreign imports will ruin local businesses
- Fear people may lose current jobs due to businesses shutting down or hiring cheaper (foreign) labour
- Fear that the Bumiputera / Malay business community would be the most affected by foreign corporations, goods and labour coming in
- Disapproval of foreign workers having the rights to lead unions; also criticism of the idea of ‘foreign workers having equal rights’.
- A minority expressed concerns that had a racist tone. These users did not want more Bangladeshi / Indonesian / Nepalese / Myanmar workers coming in due to TPPA; or to have such foreigners take on management/leadership roles
- Issues with foreign workers (e.g. more workers coming in; more foreigners taking jobs from locals) were mentioned more frequently by Selangor and KL users
3.5 Distrust of Government / BN
95 users (15.83%)
These users opposed the TPPA because they did not support the Federal government or Barisan Nasional. They did not trust that the TPPA would benefit the country. This came from a trust deficit. The most frequently mentioned reasons for distrust were:
- the increasing cost of living
- did not believe the government had the people’s interests in mind
- recent allegations against Tabung Haji fuelling the belief that the fund was in danger due to mismanagement
- the recent reduction of JPA scholarship funds
Few users mentioned opposition to Prime Minister Najib Razak as their reason for opposing TPPA. This category does not include users who were critical of BN or PM Najib for other reasons, as we are focused on reasons for opposing the TPPA.
3.6 Increases in Price of Medicine
63 users (10.50%)
These users opposed the TPPA because they were concerned about increases in the price of medicine.
3.7 Economic Burden Similar to GST
57 users (9.50%)
These users were concerned about the benefits of the TPPA being promoted by the government, because the same government had promoted GST.
Their view was that the GST had affected their lives negatively; therefore the TPPA was also likely to have a negative effect on their cost of living. The TPPA was seen as a burden.
Those users who expressed disapproval of BN also counted towards the ‘Distrust of Government / BN’ category.
3.8 Islamic Reasons
45 users (7.50%)
These users opposed the TPPA for religious (Islamic) reasons. Among the most popular reasons for this were:
- Considered TPPA to be un-Islamic because it supports liberal capitalism practiced in Western countries. This will widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
- Believed the TPPA supports modern globalisation, which is un-Islamic. This is because globalisation leads to Westernisation and Americanisation which in turn affects cultural and religious practices
- Believed foreign culture imported more freely under the TPPA will corrupt Muslims’ understanding or practice of Islam
- Believed the Halal certification and logo would be removed. This would make it easier for non-halal products to come in and harder for Muslims to be protect themselves
- Believed Islamic laws will no longer apply under the TPPA. This would affect prohibitions on alcohol; prostitution; pornography; gambling; restriction on sales of bibles; closure of restaurants during fasting month; limitations on pig farm locations; and the freedom to attend Friday prayers.
- Believed Western countries (particularly America) were a threat to Islam (very few users)
3.9 Exaggerated Fears / Propaganda
171 users (28.50%)
These users opposed the TPPA due to exaggerated fears or influence from propaganda. This includes people who were spreading propaganda. Propaganda took the form of tweets; images of quotes and info graphics.
Users expressing exaggerated fears or repeating propaganda supporting the other categories counted towards those categories as well.
Propaganda was mainly used to influence users to oppose the TPPA based on the previous categories. The following approaches were among those used when spreading propaganda:
- Statements that re-state a ‘what-if’ scenario or fear as a fact. Instead of ‘Bumiputera rights threatened’ with regards to project tenders, a propagandist would say ‘Bumiputera rights removed’.
- Statements that make up figures or inflates figures e.g. “The price of medicine would increase by 1000%”
- Statements that make up facts e.g. the statement, ‘No more subsidies’ increases the fear of the TPPA being an economic burden
Facebook posts, blog posts, videos, anti-TPPA website links and statements by Opposition politicians were among the more commonly-shared external content that pushed an anti-TPPA message.
Users would also re-upload images instead of retweeting, making it difficult to identify the most effective propaganda images.
The following beliefs are examples of exaggerated fears and propaganda expressed by this group:
- Small and medium-sized enterprises would be guaranteed to shut down
- Bumiputera rights and benefits would be affected or lost
- The Malay community would be affected the most as many are small traders
- The TPPA would guarantee high unemployment
- Our culture and religion would be corrupted due to more foreign influences being imported
- Malaysia would not be able to censor books or films, so even pornography would be imported
- “Other countries have rejected TPPA” – activists cited protests in other countries as evidence that those nations on the whole rejected TPPA
- Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines have rejected TPPA (popular misinformation)
- Questioned why ‘only 12 countries’ were involved under TPPA – this meant the agreement was not well supported
- Believed TPPA offered zero benefits to Malaysia
- Students, teachers and tuition centres will not be allowed to photocopy pages from books (for reasons such as reference material). University-owned photocopying machines will be confiscated and destroyed
- Farmers will lose seed rights
- The term ‘equal rights’ for foreign workers meant being given pensions
- President Obama is the Dajjal (Anti-Christ) or America represents the Dajjal
- America will build military bases in Malaysia to protect their economic interests (very few users)
- Illuminati conspiracy theories (very few users)
4. Other observations
Users tweeting about the TPPA also expressed other opinions on related topics. This listing was summarised based on a manual reading of a sample of 3,074 users in Malaysia, inclusive of the sample used for the above analysis.
These expressions are not indicative of their views on the TPPA, but we are including it here for informative reasons.
4.1 Additional Opinions
The following opinions were among those expressed by users:
- Criticism of anti-TPPA protesters due to their lack of detailed knowledge of why they are opposing the TPPA
- Criticism of DAP for not putting much effort in opposing the TPPA. A few users believed this poor effort implied DAP supported the TPPA.
- Criticism of the government and the Opposition for how they presented information on the TPPA to the public. Partisan views by the government (only highlighting positive aspects of TPPA) and the Opposition (only highlighting negative aspects of TPPA) made it difficult for the public to fairly evaluate the TPPA.
- Claims that Malaysia ‘needs saving’. After detailed reading of these opinions it is our view that the motivating factor for this claim is the rising cost of living.
- Complaints about the TPPA being rushed through Parliament while Hudud is still not implemented. Few users expressed this.
4.2 Personality traits
Many critics of the TPPA displayed the following traits:
- Believed their views represented the views of the rakyat (people)
- Believed the MPs in Parliament do not represent the people’s views
- Displayed certainty in their reasons for opposing the TPPA, even those listed under ‘Exaggerated Fears / Propaganda’
- Expressed hostility towards the 127 MPs who voted to support the TPPA in Parliament. This included labelling the MPs traitors and cursing them
5. About the Population Sample
The results reflect a young demographic, by our estimates to be between 18 – 30 years old. Users were predominantly Bahasa Malaysia speakers:
- 83% Bahasa Malaysia speakers
- 33% English speakers
- 83% Mixed/other language speakers
6. Scale of Importance on Twitter
6.1 The scale of conversation
This network graph shows how Twitter users in Malaysia tweeting about the TPPA and related terms from January 18th – February 8th were connected. This includes all users on Twitter limited to those who re-tweeted or had conversations with each other, filtered against our database of users in Malaysia. This helps visualise the localised scale of the conversation.
Each user is represented by a node (circle) that is coloured based on the number of their tweets that were retweeted and the number of tweets sent to them. The more attention they receive, the larger the node. Any node that retweets another node or tweets to another node is connected.
Nodes are positioned based on their connections to other nodes – strong connections pull them closer. Large nodes are considered influential within the network. The nodes are coloured based on a scale of blue (least influential) to green; yellow; orange; red; and purple (most influential).
Due to the scale of the graph, we can only show names from the top 665 most influential users as seen below:
There are 28,520 users (based in Malaysia) with 52,377 connections within the unfiltered graph. The most popular users were:
The following network shows the same users from the full Malaysia-based graph but laid-out using a different algorithm. This method helps determine how connected the users were. The rules for the size, colour and connectivity of the nodes is the same. This layout approach creates small clusters of users that are connected to each other and not to the central group. The small clusters form a ring around the core group.
Based on this layout there are 2 main groups of users – a large, highly connected core cluster in the centre and a sparsely populated ring of users around the cluster. This means a significant number of users were indirectly connected to anti-TPPA campaigners. Pro-TPPA users were not very prominent within the network.
The following graph shows how the 2 separate groups can be identified. The red circle separates the connected cluster from users in the outer ring, which are tinted red.
The high connectivity between the majority of users likely contributed to the high percentage of users opposing the TPPA. Users on Twitter looking for information on the TPPA would have come across anti-TPPA messages, which they subsequently re-tweeted or replicated and passed along within the network.
If there were more users in the outer ring that would mean more users striking up conversations with each other based on external sources (e.g. other social networks; blogs; newspapers or television) with less influence from anti-TPPA campaigners on Twitter.
6.2 The #BantahTPPA Campaign
The chart below shows the number of users and tweets mentioning the TPPA and related campaigns from January 18th – February 8th 2016. Spammed tweets and spammers are shown separately. Please note that some spam accounts send non-spam tweets so there is some overlap between Spammers and Non-Spam Users.
The #BantahTPPA campaign was an online hashtag campaign to oppose the TPPA. The chart below shows the number of users and tweets mentioning #BantahTPPA from January 18th – February 8th 2016. This data represents a subset of the above graph.
By comparing the 2 charts we can see that the #BantahTPPA campaign effectively stopped once the TPPA was passed in Parliament on January 27th.
From January 1st – February 28th 2016 we tracked a total of 9,853 users tweeting the #BantahTPPA hashtag (including spammers).
Out of this total, 6,911 users (70%) had previously tweeted one of the following anti-government or anti-BN campaign hashtags in 2015:
Not all users who tweet a campaign hashtag are supporters of that campaign. There were a total of 195,879 users tweeting the above campaign hashtags, not including #BantahTPPA. Only 3.5% of those users tweeted #BantahTPPA in the first two months of 2016.
This shows that the #BantahTPPA hashtag failed to reach a wider market outside the existing anti-government user-base. It also failed to motivate the majority of users that had shown interest in anti-government hashtag campaigns.
The analysis indicates that the majority of Twitter users in Malaysia tweeting about the TPPA were not supportive with 83% of users opposing the TPPA. This is not unexpected due to the nature of the topic, but the insights gained from reading the reasons for opposing the TPPA proved valuable.
The need for simple answers creates problems
Twitter users were looking for easy answers about the pros and cons of the TPPA. However the TPPA is a complex issue that can’t be easily simplified into an info graphic or short paragraph. This need for simple answers combined with distrust of government sources by the youth made it easier for people with an agenda to spread anti-TPPA propaganda. An anonymous person wielded greater authority than a media or government source.
The source of the propaganda was not confined to certain accounts – users took the messages and images and repeated it on their own account (instead of just retweeting). This replication helped the message go viral across the network.
Repeated general statements by users such as ‘the price of medicines will go up’ possibly helped reinforce propaganda from other users stating that, ‘the price of medicine would increase by 1000%’. The need for simple arguments created problems for pro-TPPA campaigners.
Besides Twitter, users appeared to be influenced by other sources. Facebook posts, blog posts, videos, anti-TPPA website links and statements by Opposition politicians were among the more commonly-shared external content that pushed an anti-TPPA message.
External content originating from PAS were more widely shared compared to content from PKR, PSM and DAP. Links to ebooks from Dubook Press on the TPPA were also popular on Twitter.
The growing influence of PAS
PAS had a more noticeable influence than what we expected based on previous studies.
Nik Abduh (Ketua Dewan Pemuda PAS / PAS Youth Chief and MP for Pasir Mas) was the 2nd-most influential politician and 12th-most influential user on Twitter.
We observed users from other states posting images from KL during the #BantahTPPA protest, which indicated they made the effort to travel for the protest.
The majority of users in Peninsular Malaysia (outside KL and Selangor) sharing updates on the #BantahTPPA protests were sharing updates from the PAS-led protest at Padang Merbok and expressing support for PAS. The other protest near Dataran Merdeka drew weak interest mainly from KL and Selangor users.
Among the external content shared we found statements from Abdul Hadi Awang, articles from Harakah and statements from Dewan Pemuda PAS.
In our past analyses of Twitter conversations we often observed that youth tend to support Islamic issues but PAS itself did not have a strong influence on Twitter. This appears to be changing. PAS’ growing influence online and ability to draw more supporters at their rally is a positive sign for the party.
The fear of colonisation is real
The message that gained the most traction was the fear of colonisation by the United States. This can be partly attributed to a general dislike of the American government by the local youth on Twitter, which is something we first observed during President Barack Obama’s visit to Malaysia from November 20th – 22nd 2015. Some of the remarks were harsh, including labelling Obama ‘Dajjal’ (Islam’s Anti-Christ) and calling Americans infidels.
The fact that the TPPA was being proposed by the United States (and not another country) was a factor in opposing the TPPA. However it is not clear whether anti-American sentiment is generally held by a large segment of Malaysian youth on Twitter. We would need to examine more US-related issues in Malaysia before a pattern can be determined. It is clear that the anti-colonisation message proved to be the most effective.
A possible shift in young voter sentiment
Another highlight of this analysis is that Prime Minister Najib Razak was not directly blamed for the TPPA by the majority of negative users. The BN-led government was held more accountable for the TPPA compared to the PM. Only 15.83% of total users opposed the TPPA because they did not trust the government.
After the TPPA was voted on in Parliament negative backlash was directed at all MPs who voted to support it, not just PM Najib. During our analysis anti-Najib users typically did not blame him for the TPPA.
This may indicate a turning point in voter sentiment from the youth as they shift towards an anti-BN position regardless of their position on PM Najib. The suspension of the JPA scholarships and allegations against Tabung Haji were current issues that affected confidence in the government. These issues were not directly connected to PM Najib. The receptiveness of the online audience to anti-TPPA propaganda (affecting up to 28.50% of the total) is a challenge for BN to deal with.
If more issues like these emerge then support for BN will be negatively affected.
8. Location of users
Based on geo-tagged tweets, we are able to determine where users often tweet from. This is indicative of where they spend most of their time e.g. work-place, university or residence.
Blue markers = Support; Red markers = Don’t Support; Yellow markers = Neutral
8.1 West Malaysia
8.2 East Malaysia
9. References Malaysia’s Free Trade Agreements (TPPA Background). Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Malaysia). Retrieved from http://fta.miti.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/246 on March 30th 2016  Mei Lin, M. (2016, January 23) Anti-TPP rally reveals bad blood between Amanah and PAS. Malay Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/anti-tpp-rally-reveals-bad-blood-between-amanah-and-pas on March 30th 2016  (2016, February 4)Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal signed in Auckland. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-35480600 on March 30th 2016
10. Appendix 1 – Popular Content
The following tweets were among the most popularly shared tweets / images on the TPPA during this period.
Era Najib Razak
4)Kek isteri Rm79k
5)TPP gadai negara
6)Students ikat perut
— Kepala Hotak Kamu (@MalaysianUnites) January 21, 2016
1MDB, GST, Kos Hidup Meningkat, Inflasi Teras Tinggi, Pemotongan Dana Pendidikan & terkini Tabung Haji. Percaya BN dgn #TPPA?
— Nurul Izzah (@n_izzah) January 26, 2016
Dulu menteri cakap GST ni bagus terbaik ke babom, tengok sekarang kita merana. Sekarang menteri kata TPPA pulak bagus, okey tunggu hasilnya.
— Santai dan Sampah (@SantaiDanSampah) January 28, 2016
19.27pm speaker umumkan parlimen Malaysia luluskan TPPA. Selamat datang Amerika ke bumi bertuah Malaysia. Kamu patut berterima kasih kpd BN
— nik mohamad abduh (@nikabduh) January 27, 2016
Sakit hati betul aku hari ini!
1 Usul TPPA dibentang
2 Najib bebas dari kes RM2.6b tanpa dakwaan
3 JPA tarik balik biasiswa beberapa pelajar
— Malek Hussin (@AbdMalekHussin) January 26, 2016
— izyankay is faragrey (@izyankaher) January 27, 2016
Untuk sesiapa yang tak tahu apa itu TPPA. Takpe kita kongsi ilmu sikit eh? pic.twitter.com/9ZMpHLruUx
— Ijiannn (@yanwani) January 27, 2016
— RMPM (@RichPoorMsia) January 23, 2016
MP2 Umno berucap kata TPPA baik. 1MDB baik! GST baik! TPPA baik! Semuanya baik untuk kita. Teringat iklan dulu-dulu. pic.twitter.com/Av10LG9ktE
— Malek Hussin (@AbdMalekHussin) January 27, 2016
Selamat datang TPPA. Kita yg dulu dijajah cuba utk merdeka hari ini kembali dijajah semula. Bertabahlah negaraku 😰 pic.twitter.com/ZjhfMfAMJd
— KOTAK SUARA (@Geng_bebel) January 27, 2016
The easiest explanation for TPPA issue. At least we have a clue whts all abt. Kalau tak nanti org ckp kita bimbo😊 pic.twitter.com/HYqw1E1dML
— FARAH. (@iamfrhnblh) January 28, 2016
— Charles Santiago (@mpklang) January 27, 2016
— Jerul™ (@nazrulnazir) January 19, 2016
— Nurul Izzah (@n_izzah) January 27, 2016
— Zurairi AR (@zurairi) January 22, 2016
Sebut Pasal TPPA semua pernah dengar.Tapi mungkin ada yg taktahu maksudnya. Mari belajar dan ketahuia Bahananya TPPA pic.twitter.com/qtXbSSNh5p
— PERAK POWER! (@iloveyouIPOH) January 28, 2016
Kesan TPPA kepada mahasiswa. Tahu dan lawan!
— Jerul™ (@nazrulnazir) January 20, 2016
— AZZAN AZNAN (@AzzanAznan) January 18, 2016
— scarlet witch (@syahiroslan) October 16, 2015
Apa itu tppa. Anggaplah utk tambah general knowledge pasal negara 😌 pic.twitter.com/4LAVb4iaR8
— fizek (@afiqzaquann) January 26, 2016
— Yunn (@yunnishyaa) January 18, 2016
(Full text also shared from http://www.harakahdaily.net/index.php/berita-utama/39540-tppa-7-bahana-kepada-negara-dan-rakyat)
— PENGHASUT RAKYAT (@PutraREFORMASI) January 20, 2016
11. Appendix 2 – Filtering Global Tweets
The network graph showing global conversations about the TPPA from January 18th – February 8th 2016 is shown below.
This graph contains 50,755 users with 96,142 connections. Unlike the Malaysia-based graph, there is a noticeable gap within the network on the right. These users are not connected to the rest of the network.
To see them more clearly we have highlighted the estimated section occupied by these isolated users in red:
Random examination of users within this red section revealed that prominent users were based in New Zealand and users having conversations within this section were based in New Zealand or countries other than Malaysia. Examples of prominent users (in order) are:
When we filter this network against our database of users based in Malaysia (currently at 614,832 users as of March 2016) we get the network graph shown in Section 6.1. The users in the red section have practically disappeared and their influence on the result of system-generated reports such as popular content is removed. A comparison of the filtered and unfiltered graphs is shown below.
When we compared the lists of most influential users between both graphs, the relative ordering of Malaysia-based users remained unchanged. That means the Malaysia-based users were not having conversations with or having their content shared by a significant number of foreign users. This comparison shows how virtual communities can remain isolated on Twitter despite talking about the same issue.
This report demonstrates that our database is adequate enough to conduct research on Malaysian issues using globally used keywords.