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Spambots hijack movement helping M'sians to return home to vote

The non partisan #PulangMengundi umbrella movement was formed to encourage every Malaysian to return home to vote on May 9.

Petaling Jaya

CYBER troopers are targeting the #PulangMengundi movement with spambots, stifling communication between voters hoping to travel home for GE14 and the sponsors trying to help them. The non partisan #PulangMengundi umbrella movement was formed to encourage every Malaysian to return home to vote.

On Twitter, the hashtag is buried in hashtag-heavy tweets that neither make a request for help nor offer assistance, effectively spamming the conversation with junk content.

According to social media consultant Joe Lee, who started #PulangMengundi after the polling day announcement on April 10, the spambots started their work after 3 pm on Monday.

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"It looks like it's been slowing down lately. At last count, there were over 2,000 - almost 3,000 - spambots. I manually reported and blocked each one I spotted," he told The Star online newspaper.

According to Mr Lee, the volume of the spambot tweets affected the #PulangMengundi and #CarpoolGE14 hashtags, which were meant to connect donors and those seeking help, as well as those offering rides and those looking for transportation.

"I've been asking everyone to report the bots for spam and also block them, so it's easier for them to filter out. We've taught people how to block the bots by minusing certain hashtags they use," he added.

Besides #CarpoolGE14 there is also #UndiRabu, which collects and hands out funds for those needing financial assistance to do so.

With some spambots casting doubt on #UndiRabu, Mr Lee endorsed the movement wholeheartedly as they "keep very tight accounts, are very transparent and keep track of every sen".

"And that's why we trust them. All of us have full-time jobs. We're all stretched to the limit, and it's really trying for us to focus our time and effort to do this. But the payback is when you get that acknowledgement and love from everyone," he added.

Mr Lee has contacted Twitter about the spambot issue, but remains disappointed that it has yet to address his concerns.

Two other Twitter accounts, @CarPoolGE14 and @Pulang_Mengundi, were also set up to share regular updates and highlight calls for help.

In addition, the website serves as the digital hub for their efforts to bring Malaysians home for the polls.

However, Mr Lee hopes that those helping to help with #PulangMengundi, #CarpoolGE14 and #UndiRabu efforts will not be scared off from the platform where it all started.

"I want to keep the conversation going, because a lot of people are still only just jumping on the bandwagon. People are still discovering us. I don't want them to be discouraged. So I hope everyone will get the conversation flowing - but if it's really bad, go to the website straightaway."

Mr Lee also issued a call for more donors. He praised AirAsia for adding flights and fixed fares during polling period, and urged more Malaysian brands and companies to step up to help their countrymen afford the journey home to vote, regardless of who they are voting for.

"Donors are not allowed in any way to question people on who they're voting for, or instruct people on who to vote for. We will ban donors who do that. Every Malaysian has the right, and deserves equal access, to go home and vote," he added.

According to Mr Lee, #PulangMengundi is "as Malaysian as you can get". He added: "Sponsors and donors are not matched by race or religion - they are just reaching out to their fellow Malaysian in need. And that's what keeps us going. It just aims to encourage every Malaysian to step up and help our neighbour, and that's why we don't understand why anyone would be threatened by our movement."