Politweet.Org

Observing Malaysian Social Media

Key Topics, Influencers, Misinformation and How They Changed Perception towards 1MDB and Najib

1. Introduction

On August 3rd 2015 the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) released a statement saying that the alleged transfers of RM2.6 billion into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal account came from donors and not 1MDB (link1 , link2).

This prompted a strong response on Twitter as users started to tweet about Najib and derma (donations).

We collected 193,893 tweets from 79,949 users about donations (derma) and Najib from August 3rd – August 6th. To get a sense of the scale, here is the graph for mentions of Najib and donations per day within the past 30 days.

topsy_derma_vs_najib_Aug8

From an initial reading of samples of tweets from users in Malaysia we can summarise the response as follows:

  • The majority of the response was negative, often in the form of sarcasm
  • Many users don’t believe the money came from donation(s)
  • Many users believe Najib is a liar for having previously denied receiving funds
  • Many users don’t believe donations to UMNO would reside in a personal account

‘Donations’ did not serve as an effective explanation for the sum of money. A hashtag campaign called #DearNajib was started, drawing even more jokes and sarcasm from users online. From August 3rd – August 7th 28,034 users tweeted 57,959 tweets with the hashtag #DearNajib.

2. Increasing Negative Perception

There has been a persistent build-up of negative perception towards the PM in relation to 1MDB over the last few months.

It started becoming noticeable in May (the Tabung Haji ‘bail out’ of 1MDB), June (the no-show at the #Nothing2Hide forum), July (allegations by WSJ and Sarawak Report) and finally August (confirmation of the RM2.6 billion deposits in his account).

Certain trends became apparent when we performed our previous analyses. Some of the opinions expressed by users do not appear to be supported by facts. Even today we find users online who insist that Najib stole RM2.6 billion from public funds, a belief that is not supported by the original Wall Street Journal (WSJ) or Sarawak Report exposes.

Another belief that is often expressed is that PM Najib denied that RM2.6 billion was deposited into his accounts. When we checked news reports we found that he only denied taking government funds for personal use. There was no clear denial that he received any funds.

When MACC revealed that the money was in Najib’s accounts on August 3rd this prompted users to call Najib a liar. A sample tweet demonstrating this is shown below:

There is a pattern of changing perception by misrepresenting facts; using out-dated facts; and spreading misinformation to create outrage as the 1MDB story develops. Whether this was done intentionally we do not know, but it has created confusion on the part of social media users.

In order to investigate when this pattern started, we need to look at the conversation about 1MDB and what issues drew the most attention from Twitter users. Our main focus will be on 1MDB but we will draw on Najib-related statistics as both conversation topics become intertwined.

We will summarise the most impactful events related to 1MDB and which messages were most influential on Twitter. We will show when the Malaysian government, 1MDB supporters and Najib’s supporters lost influence.

3. The Level of Interest in 1MDB

The graph below shows the daily number of users tweeting about 1MDB and tweets about 1MDB from 1st March 2015 – 6th August 2015.

1MDB_DailyMentions_August6

The chart below shows the total number of users tweeting about 1MDB per month:

1MDB_MonthlyMentions_July2015

The total for 2015 (up to August 7th) based on data we collected is 914,837 tweets from 142,679 users. By comparing both graphs we can see that May and July were the most eventful.

The following sections summarise popular topics of discussion related to 1MDB on Twitter. Other events related to allegations did occur, but for our purposes we will focus on events that mentioned 1MDB and gained traction on Twitter. This will give an idea of what issues resonated most with the audience online.

4. March 2015 Summary

4.1 Main topics of discussion

Main topics discussed/shared on Twitter this month were:

Out of 21,318 users the estimated numbers of users talking about specific topics that include the keyword 1MDB are:

Topic Users % of total users
1MDB facts (@malaysia_gov content) 7466 35%
Tun Mahathir 2783 13.1%
Rafizi Ramli  / @rafiziramli 2117 9.9%
Jho Low 1274 6%
Sarawak Report 706 3.3%
Tony Pua / @tonypua 1111 5.2%
Najib Razak 4357 20.4%
The Edge 627 2.94%
Ministry of Information content (@jpenerangan and related) 111 0.5%

 
4.2 The scale of the conversation

Total stats: 87,503 tweets from 21,318 users

This network graph shows how Twitter users tweeting about 1MDB in March were connected. This includes all users on Twitter limited to those who retweeted or had conversations with each other. Spammers are not included. This helps visualise the scale of the conversation.

1MDB_RTsConversations_Mac_2015_1200px

Each user is represented by a node (circle) that is coloured based on a ranking formula that factors in the number of their tweets that were retweeted; the number of tweets sent to them and their connections to other nodes. The more influential they are on others, 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. We have coloured the nodes 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 the top 297 most influential users as seen below:

1MDB_RTsConversations_Mac_2015_1200px_label

There are 18,150 users with 26,201 connections within the unfiltered graph. The most popular users were:

  1. malaysia_gov
  2. rafiziramli
  3. 501awani
  4. norman__g
  5. suara_generasi
  6. abdmalekhussin
  7. malaysiakini
  8. nelsonpung
  9. __earth
  10. 1obefiend

4.3 Popular content

The following tweets were among the most popularly shared content in March.

5. April 2015 Summary

5.1 Main topics of discussion

The main topics of conversation discussed/shared this month were:

  1. Increased pressure by Tun Mahathir for Najib to answer questions on 1MDB (http://www.astroawani.com/berita-malaysia/tun-m-beri-tekanan-lagi-kepada-najib-persoalkan-1mdb-58545)
  2. Jho Low’s denial of involvement with 1MDB (http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/04/14/Jho-Low-scapegoat/)
  3. Najib Razak’s TV interview on April 9th to address controversial issues raised by Tun Mahathir (http://www.nst.com.my/node/80022)
  4. Najib Razak’s denial of 1MDB money being kept in Cayman Islands (http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/1mdb-money-not-kept-in-cayman-islands-says-najib)
  5. Usage of 1MDB as a campaign issue during the Permatang Pauh by-election
  6. Najib’s statement that 1MDB is not bankrupt (http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/04/08/1MDB-not-bankrupt/)
  7. Allegations by Sarawak Report that 1MDB presented false bank statements (http://www.thesundaily.my/news/1393028)
  8. Speculation on use of sukuk proceeds to pay for 1MDB debt (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/16/asia-bonds-idUSL4N0XD36520150416)
  9. Implementation of GST this month, further increasing criticism of the government

Out of 20,972 users the estimated numbers of users talking about specific topics that include the keyword 1MDB are:

Topic Users % of total users
1MDB facts (@malaysia_gov content) 7235 34.5%
Tun Mahathir 4783 22.8%
Rafizi Ramli  / @rafiziramli 309 1.5%
Jho Low 1121 5.4%
Sarawak Report 353 1.7%
Tony Pua / @tonypua 318 1.5%
Najib Razak 6299 30%
The Edge 416 2%
Ministry of Information content (@jpenerangan and related) 366 1.7%

 

5.2 The scale of the conversation

Total stats: 53,662 tweets from 20,972 users

This network graph shows how Twitter users tweeting about 1MDB in April were connected.
1MDB_RTsConversations_April_2015_800px

The top 227 most influential users are shown below:

1MDB_RTsConversations_April_2015_1200px_label

There are 18,924 users with 24,387 connections within the unfiltered graph. The most popular users were:

  1. malaysia_gov
  2. malaysian_gags
  3. matluthfi90
  4. eekmalahmad
  5. 501awani
  6. azmyys
  7. khairykj
  8. najibrazak
  9. tundrmahathir
  10. theedgemarkets

5.3 Popular content

The following tweets were among the most popularly shared content in April.

6. May 2015 Summary

6.1 Main topics of discussion

The main topics of conversation discussed/shared this month were:

Out of 41,938 users the estimated numbers of users talking about specific topics that include the keyword 1MDB are:

Topic Users % of total users
1MDB facts (@malaysia_gov content) 547 1.3%
Tun Mahathir 9799 23.4%
Rafizi Ramli  / @rafiziramli 2340 5.6%
Jho Low 1310 3.1%
Sarawak Report 519 1.2%
Tony Pua / @tonypua 1021 2.4%
Tabung Haji 22131 52.8%
Najib Razak 12250 29.2%
The Edge 594 1.4%
Ministry of Information content (@jpenerangan and related) 457 1.1%

 

6.2 The scale of the conversation

Total stats: 199,803 tweets from 41,938 users

This network graph shows how Twitter users tweeting about 1MDB in May were connected.

1MDB_RTsConversations_May_2015_900px

The top 625 most influential users are shown below:

1MDB_RTsConversations_May_2015_1200px_label

There are 38,315 users with 75,894 connections within the unfiltered graph. The most popular users were:

  1. hafizrayyan
  2. faktabukanauta
  3. matluthfi90
  4. abdmalekhussin
  5. 501awani
  6. tundrmahathir
  7. mukhrizmahathir
  8. rafiziramli
  9. jimiecheng
  10. adrianlimcheeen

At this point @malaysia_gov has lost its influence within the network and fallen to 30th place.

6.3 Popular content

The following tweets were among the most popularly shared content in May.

7. June 2015 Summary

7.1 Main topics of discussion

The main topics of conversation discussed/shared this month were:

Out of 27,890 users the estimated numbers of users talking about specific topics that include the keyword 1MDB are:

Topic Users % of total users
1MDB facts (@malaysia_gov content) 431 1.5%
Tun Mahathir 11350 40.7%
Rafizi Ramli  / @rafiziramli 436 1.5%
Jho Low 3106 11.1%
Sarawak Report 660 2.4%
Tony Pua / @tonypua 1385 5%
Tabung Haji 1428 5%
Najib Razak 10020 35.9%
Justo 1130 4.1%
WSJ 1232 4.4%
The Edge 970 3.5%
Ministry of Information content (@jpenerangan and related) 727 2.6%

 
7.2 The scale of the conversation

Total stats: 180,063 tweets from 27,890 users (the high disparity was caused by spammers)

This network graph shows how Twitter users tweeting about 1MDB in June were connected.
1MDB_RTsConversations_June_2015_900px

The top 603 most influential users are shown below:
1MDB_RTsConversations_June_2015_1200px_label

There are 24,596 users with 38,606 connections within the unfiltered graph. The most popular users were:

  1. suara_generasi
  2. sumishanaidu
  3. malaysiakini
  4. malaysian_gags
  5. 501awani
  6. abdmalekhussin
  7. adrianlimcheeen
  8. hafizrayyan
  9. liy
  10. najibrazak

7.3 Popular content

The following tweets were among the most popularly shared content in June.

8. July 2015 Summary

8.1 Main topics of discussion

Issues related to 1MDB and Najib Razak were popular on Twitter on an almost daily basis and the focus kept changing. The main topics of conversation discussed/shared this month were:

Out of 82,352 users the estimated numbers of users talking about specific topics that include the keyword 1MDB are:

Topic Users % of total users
1MDB facts (@malaysia_gov content) 174 0.2%
Tun Mahathir 8263 10%
Rafizi Ramli  / @rafiziramli 1207 1.5%
Jho Low 3311 4.0%
Sarawak Report 3605 4.4%
Tony Pua / @tonypua 1414 1.7%
Tabung Haji 2008 2.4%
Najib Razak 31352 38%
Justo 1151 1.4%
WSJ 8677 10.5%
Muhyiddin 12923 15.7%
The Edge 5669 6.9%
Ministry of Information content (@jpenerangan and related) 214 0.3%

 
8.2 The scale of the conversation

Total stats: 318,426 tweets from 82,352 users

This network graph shows how Twitter users tweeting about 1MDB in July were connected.

1MDB_RTsConversations_July_2015_900px

The top 952 most influential users are shown below:

1MDB_RTsConversations_July_2015_1200px_label

There are 73,019 users with 145,744 connections within the unfiltered graph. The most popular users were:

  1. 501awani
  2. santaidansampah
  3. faktabukanauta
  4. gengbebel
  5. abdmalekhussin
  6. suara_generasi
  7. hafizrayyan
  8. wsj
  9. adrianlimcheeen
  10. adhakadavra

8.3 Popular content

The following tweets were among the most popularly shared content in July. Additional content can be found in the later section on the WSJ and Sarawak Report expose.

9. Common Trends in Conversations on 1MDB

The table below lists the estimated share of users talking about each topic each month.

Topic March April May June July
1MDB facts (@malaysia_gov content) 35.0% 34.5% 1.3% 1.5% 0.2%
Tun Mahathir 13.1% 22.8% 23.4% 40.7% 10.0%
Rafizi Ramli  / @rafiziramli 9.9% 1.5% 5.6% 1.5% 1.5%
Jho Low 6.0% 5.4% 3.1% 11.1% 4.0%
Sarawak Report 3.3% 1.7% 1.2% 2.4% 4.4%
Tony Pua / @tonypua 5.2% 1.5% 2.4% 5.0% 1.7%
Tabung Haji 52.8% 5.0% 2.4%
Najib Razak 20.4% 30.0% 29.2% 35.9% 38.0%
Justo 4.1% 1.4%
WSJ 4.4% 10.5%
Muhyiddin 15.7%
The Edge 2.9% 2.0% 1.4% 3.5% 6.9%
Ministry of Information content (@jpenerangan and related) 0.5% 1.7% 1.1% 2.6% 0.3%

 
Some key points from our analysis of these months:

  • The link between Najib and 1MDB increases each month
  • Tabung Haji’s purchase of TRX land and Mahathir’s consistent attacks were very effective at increasing the audience of users interested in 1MDB
  • The Edge and their articles were not popularly talked about or shared in relation to 1MDB, other than their final expose showing the money trail.
  • Sarawak Report was not as popular compared to WSJ. News of Sarawak Report’s website being blocked only resulted in a 2-day boost in popularity.
  • Government channels were not effective at reaching a wide audience. @malaysia_gov was only effective in March and April. Pro-Najib supporters were also ineffective.
  • Media agencies and online activists tended to produce the most-shared (viral) content
  • Muhyiddin Yassin was more talked about in relation to 1MDB in July compared to The Edge, Sarawak Report or Mahathir. The removal of Muhyiddin Yassin from the Cabinet prompted the greatest response from Twitter users in July, even more than the WSJ and Sarawak Report allegations.
  • In our opinion analysis of user response to Muhyiddin’s removal from Cabinet on August 3rd, 87.65% supported Muhyiddin and 49% were critical of Najib. Tweets stating he was sacked for standing up for the people on 1MDB were widely shared.

10. The Tabung Haji TRX Land Deal (May 2015)

On May 6th documents related to a deal by Tabung Haji to purchase land owned by 1MDB were leaked online. The first tweet mentioning this is below:

The allegation was that 2 plots of land were purchased for RM772 million and was a bailout for 1MDB. The documents were dated 9th February, 26th March, 30th March and 20th April 2015. The documents spread quickly online. Samples below:

The Chairman of Tabung Haji, Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim (@azeezputra) quickly tweeted out a denial:

On May 7th it was reported that Tabung Haji had purchased only 1 plot of land from 1MDB for RM188.5 million, below the market valuation of RM194 million (http://english.astroawani.com/malaysia-news/tabung-haji-confirms-buying-trx-land-denies-purchase-signature-tower-59446)

It was also reported that the offer to purchase the land was made in April 2013. It took 2 years to finalise the deal (http://www.bharian.com.my/node/53847).

The Chairman clarified his denial to be in reference to both lots, but the damage was done.

Negative backlash about the deal continued online. The Chairman’s statement from the day before continued to be referenced, as seen below:

We can summarise public perception of the Tabung Haji TRX land purchase expose as:

  • The government was exposed as using Tabung Haji to bailout 1MDB
  • Tabung Haji tried to deny it but it was later confirmed to be true
  • Public perception is that the government lied, and users promoting the expose gained credibility

11. The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report Expose (July 2015)

11.1 Background

On July 3rd the Wall Street Journal published an article that made 2 allegations against Najib:

  1. That he received RM42 million ringgit from 1MDB through funds channelled through SRC International, Gandingan Mentari and Ihsan Perdana.
    • SRC International is an energy company originally controlled by 1MDB but transferred to the Finance Ministry in 2012.
    • SRC International transferred RM50 million to Gandingan Mentari, its subsidiary
    • Gandingan Mentari transferred RM50 million to Ihsan Perdana, a company that does corporate social responsibility work for 1MDB
    • Ihsan Perdana transferred RM42 million to Najib Razak
  2. That he received USD681 million from an account held by Tanore Finance, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.
    • The bank transferring the money was Falcon Private Bank, a Swiss bank owned by an Abu Dhabi state fund, International Petroleum Investment Co. (IPIC).
    • IPIC is connected to 1MDB through financial transactions including guaranteeing billions of dollars of 1MDB’s bonds.
    • The source of the money was not stated as coming from 1MDB.
    • Based on exchange rates in March 2013 when the transfer took place, the sum would have been worth RM2.1 billion.

Sarawak Report then published an article making the some allegations with more details. Both articles did not clearly state that the USD681 million came from 1MDB. There is no explanation on how and why the bank transfer documents surfaced as part of the 1MDB investigation. The WSJ article also stated the original source of the money is unclear:

The original source of the money is unclear and the government investigation doesn’t detail what happened to the money that went into Mr. Najib’s personal accounts.

We can summarise this as 2 separate allegations:

  1. Embezzlement of RM42 million from 1MDB/government funds
  2. Suspicious payment of USD681 million from Abu Dhabi state fund (implied corruption)

11.2 How news spread on Twitter

On July 3rd 2015, news of the exposes was first tweeted out by WSJ and Sarawak Report:

As the news spread the story began to change quickly. The separate allegations became merged into one allegation – that Najib received nearly USD700 million from 1MDB into his personal account. This was not clearly stated in the exposes. This is a false allegation that was widely repeated.

The Straits Times (Singapore) published a link to its news coverage in a tweet stating that SGD944 million (USD681 million, RM2.6 billion) flowed from 1MDB into Najib’s accounts. This link (with the same text) was shared by 1,124 users across 1,152 tweets and retweets. It was the 2nd-most shared hyperlink related to 1MDB on July 3rd, with the WSJ article being the most shared.

Here is another media outlet with a tweet stating that nearly USD700 million was wired from 1MDB to Najib:

Users began spreading news of the USD700 million fund transfers from 1MDB. The following tweets were among the most popularly shared tweets about 1MDB and Najib on July 3rd.

In these examples, a graphic from WSJ showing the two separate fund transfers into Najib’s account was misused to illustrate transfers from 1MDB:

This graphic was re-uploaded and shared multiple times with similar text implying money was transferred from 1MDB to Najib.

When WSJ used the same graphic to promote their article, they used a cropped version only showing the 1MDB transfers. This would have helped prevent misunderstanding:

In this example, screenshots from Sarawak Report showing the separate fund transfers were also misused to link both transfers to 1MDB:

More examples:

11.3 The Edge Money Trail

On July 20th, The Edge Financial Daily published a final expose titled, “How Jho Low & PetroSaudi schemed to steal money from the people of Malaysia via 1MDB” detailing how USD1.83 billion was transferred out of 1MDB by Jho Low and his associates.

We have simplified the chart in the network diagram below, showing how named individuals and other entities in The Edge report were connected via funds transfers.

TheEdge_MoneyTrailGephi4000pxb

How to read the diagram:

  • Each account holder / recipient is represented as a node
  • Nodes are sized and coloured based on the amount of money received
  • Connections are shown as lines with thickness based on the USD value
  • The arrows indicate the direction of the flow; the size is based on the amount of money
  • Connections are labelled with the USD value of the transaction based on historical exchange rates

This diagram is based entirely on their report (published on July 20th 2015), relying on information that has not been confirmed by investigators.

What’s important to note is that a transfer of funds to Najib Razak was not shown in the money trail or mentioned in The Edge report.

11.4 Theory for the false allegation

How the false allegation (that Najib received RM2.6 billion from 1MDB) came about is not clear.

The original WSJ and Sarawak Report articles did not clearly state that the USD681 million came from 1MDB, but that is the message that spread online.

This may have been caused by misunderstandings on the part of the media and the users. When we examined the phrasing of the WSJ expose, we noticed a key phrase (highlighted by us) in the quote below:

“The government probe documents what investigators believe to be the movement of cash among government agencies, banks and companies linked to 1MDB before it ended up in Mr. Najib’s personal accounts.”

This phrase, particularly ‘linked to 1MDB’ can be misinterpreted as ‘flowed from’ 1MDB, especially after viewing the graphic showing the flow of funds from SRC International to Najib via bank accounts held by two companies.

Both local and foreign media reports on the WSJ allegations carried the same unclear phrasing, which would have contributed to the confusion.

11.5 Initial response to the allegations

Both 1MDB and Ihsan Perdana issued statements denying that funds were transferred to Najib (http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/after-wsj-report-1mdb-insists-never-provided-funds-to-najib ; http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/ihsan-perdana-denies-was-conduit-for-1mdb-funds-to-najib).

Najib issued a statement on his blog stating that he has never taken funds for personal gain from any entities including those named. He pointed out that the allegations came with no evidence and blamed Tun Mahathir for these attacks:

4. The latest allegation is that I have taken state-linked funds for personal gain. I believe Tun, working hand in glove with foreign nationals, including the now discredited political attack blog Sarawak Report, is behind this latest lie.

5. Let me be very clear: I have never taken funds for personal gain as alleged by my political opponents – whether from 1MDB, SRC International or other entities, as these companies have confirmed.

This denial was similar to the government response mentioned in the WSJ expose:

“The prime minister has not taken any funds for personal use,” said a Malaysian government spokesman. “The prime minister’s political opponents, unwilling to accept his record or the facts, continue to try to undermine him with baseless smears and rumours for pure political gain.”

Najib’s denial of the funds transfer was unclear and evasive due to its phrasing. Some users took this as an admission of guilt while others took this to mean he denied funds were deposited into his account.

At this point Najib was already perceived as a liar, prompting users pressuring him to prove himself innocent by disclosing bank account statements.

Sarawak Report did publish a follow-up expose on July 4th alleging that the funds were financed by 1MDB-issued bonds; however this expose did not provide documents to support the claim. The Abu Dhabi state fund is linked to 1MDB but the cash flow from 1MDB’s accounts was not established. As stated by WSJ, the source of the money remains unclear.

11.6 The impact of the allegations

The number of users influenced by the false allegation cannot be measured but we have seen the impact in our past analyses. Many users believe that Najib received RM2.6 billion from 1MDB.

In our opinion analysis of Twitter users in Malaysia on July 9th, we found 85% of users had negative opinions about Najib Razak following the WSJ allegations. The following points helped convince some users that the allegations were true:

  • no declaration by the PM that the accounts do not belong to him
  • no denial that the funds were deposited into the accounts
  • delay in suing WSJ
  • WSJ does not have the same (alleged) credibility issues that Sarawak Report has
  • global TV news coverage of the allegations served to make the claims more credible

User opinion has been influenced by the false allegation that Najib stole RM2.6 billion worth of state funds. The manner in which the original allegations were reported combined with the misinformation spread online has resulted in a false allegation becoming fact. It might later prove to be true or supported by more evidence but our point is this: at the time of the expose it was misinformation.

Users who were anti-Najib stood to gain more from spreading misinformation when the real embezzlement allegation was RM42 million from 1MDB. This misrepresentation has helped to fuel rage against him. Whether this was intentional is unknown and Najib’s own defense did not help his position.

11.7 The use of exchange rates

This is a small point, but we will highlight it because it may have an impact in future.

Both Sarawak Report and media reports have referred to a transfer of RM2.6 billion in reference to the USD681 million. Media reports that we saw did not state the value in 2013 when the transfers took place, which is RM2.1 billion. We also don’t know if the money was converted to RM at the time of transfer or held in USD.

The public perception is that Najib embezzled RM2.6 billion from 1MDB. If Najib were to disclose how the money was spent and the total is RM2.1 billion, this could cause uproar over the ‘missing money’ of RM0.5 billion.

12. Other Misinformation Being Spread Online

On July 6th when Sarawak Report released an expose showing Najib with his family standing next to Jho Low. Judging from some users’ response to this expose, they believe that Najib previously stated he did not know Jho Low.

They took these images as proof that he lied about knowing Jho Low. One example response is shown below:

However we could find no news article where Najib stated he did not know Jho Low. The closest match was Najib denying Jho Low’s involvement in 1MDB’s decision-making process on March 16th.

In our database of political tweets going back to 2010, the only related mention of Najib and Jho Low was this article alleging that Najib and Rosmah went on a holiday with Jho Low in August 2014 (http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/malaysian-prime-minister-mystery-holiday/). We can’t find evidence that supports the belief. If Najib did say it, it is strange that it went undocumented in a report online.

On July 7th it was reported that bank accounts were frozen as part of the investigation into allegations against Najib. The names of the owners were not disclosed. This was misreported on Twitter as bank accounts belonging to Najib:

On July 9th the Attorney General’s Chambers released a statement saying that the six frozen bank accounts were not linked to the Prime Minister (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/1mdb-probe-pm-najib-s/1971998.html).

On July 29th images of a fire at the police headquarters in Bukit Aman started to circulate. Given the timing, users began to speculate that evidence related to 1MDB may be lost.

One of the most popularly-shared tweets related to the incident came from a fake Twitter account (@BeritaTV3) masquerading as TV3’s news channel. In this tweet they stated that the fire was sabotage and 1MDB evidence was lost in the fire, further fueling speculation:

13. Finding Key Influencers

This network graph shows how Twitter users tweeting and retweeting tweets about 1MDB from May 1st – August 10th were connected. 122,547 users tweeted about 1MDB during this period. Unlike previous graphs, this one only shows users who retweeted content or had their own content retweeted. Spammers are not included. This helps visualise the path of information.

1MDB_TotalRTs_May1_Aug10_Expanded900px

Each user is represented by a node (circle) that is coloured based on a ranking formula that factors in the number of their tweets that were retweeted; and their connections to other nodes. Any node that retweets 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. We have coloured the nodes based on a scale of blue (least influential) to green; yellow; orange; red; and purple (most influential).

Arrows connect nodes if they retweet each other – if A retweets B, there will be an arrow pointing from A to B, in B’s colour. The purple lines you see are users retweeting a purple (most influential) user.

There are 107,018 users with 266,574 connections in the graph. From the total 122,547 users, 15,529 users tweeted about 1MDB and didn’t retweet anyone or have their own tweets shared. The scale is too large to effectively show connections, but what we want to point out are the clusters connected to influential users. This is shown below:

1MDB_TotalRTs_May1_Aug10_Expanded900px_Closeup

Each user with some degree of influence (influencers) has their own exclusive audience. These users don’t retweet content from any other users in the network and end up clustered in oval shapes connected to influencers.

Similar clusters also exist between pairs of influential users, indicating a shared exclusive fan-base. In the close-up below, the arrow points to the shared fan-base between the purple node in the top-left and the red node in the bottom-right.

1MDB_TotalRTs_May1_Aug10_Expanded900px_Closeup2

These clusters are end-points in the spread of information because they retweeted a tweet from someone influential but their own tweets don’t get retweeted. If we remove them and redo the layout we can get a clearer picture of relations between influential users.

Removing these end-points left the network with 6,971 users. This means that only 6,971 users contributed tweets that were retweeted by the users within the total network of 122,547 users.

The network graph below is the result. From the total 6,971 users only the top 1,371 users are shown for the sake of readability.

1MDB_TotalRTs_May1_Aug10_Expanded1500px_IndegreeLabel

The most influential users are clustered together in the lower-right corner of the network. This is because they retweeted each other’s content as well as being individually popular across the network. The most influential users in this network are:

  1. 501awani
  2. faktabukanauta
  3. hafizrayyan
  4. abdmalekhussin
  5. suara_generasi
  6. santaidansampah
  7. gengbebel
  8. adrianlimcheeen
  9. matluthfi90
  10. sumishanaidu

Here is a close-up view of the influential cluster within the network:
1MDB_TotalRTs_May1_Aug10_Expanded900px_Segment

Based on this network, we ran a separate analysis on 21 influential users who tweeted out negative tweets about Najib in relation to 1MDB; negative tweets related to 1MDB or tweeted out misinformation. These users do not include journalists or media.

We found that tweets from these 21 users were retweeted by 58,391 users. This means that their content was shared by 47.64% of the users tweeting about 1MDB. The total number of users affected by their opinions is hard to measure because affected users may have crafted their own negative messages, which in turn got retweeted.

From our past research 48.6% of Twitter users in Malaysia reside in KL and Selangor. Based on a sample of 42.9% of users tweeting about 1MDB, we found state representation of users to be fairly balanced within a margin of +/- 3%, with 46.6% from KL and Selangor.

This means 1MDB was a big issue talked about by users nationwide without extra bias by the KL/Selangor user population.

14. Conclusion

The issue of 1MDB’s finances has grown to the point where any conversation on 1MDB has to include a conversation on Najib Razak.

When reading criticism of Najib we often found users blaming him for cost of living issues and the economic situation in general. Anti-Najib users were quick to link the rising cost of living to 1MDB’s debt and Najib’s alleged theft of funds. As the value of the ringgit fell this too became linked to Najib.

Allegations against 1MDB were not widely shared until May when the TRX land purchase by Tabung Haji was exposed. This was an issue that grabbed people’s attention more than any of the previous issues.

Tun Mahathir’s repeated criticism of 1MDB is what really helped to keep people interested in 1MDB. He was more effective in increasing public interest compared to Opposition politicians.

Events that provoked the greatest response on Twitter were:

  • the use of Tabung Haji funds to bailout 1MDB by purchasing the TRX land in May
  • Najib’s no-show at the #Nothing2Hide dialogue in June
  • the exposes linking deposits into Najib’s accounts with 1MDB in July
  • the Cabinet reshuffle, primarily the issue of Muhyiddin Yassin being dropped in July
  • the findings by MACC that RM2.6 billion in Najib’s accounts came from donations

Sentiment towards Najib has been affected by these events. Since March we see a trend where the public become more convinced of the following beliefs through events that transpired and shared Twitter content:

  • That Najib and the government is dishonest
  • That Najib is a coward
  • That Najib is corrupt and stupid
  • That Najib stole RM2.6 billion from the government
  • That Najib/1MDB have not answered the allegations

Influential Twitter users alone cannot be blamed for this increase in negative perception. The events that we listed; Tun Mahathir’s involvement; the falling value of the ringgit; the way Najib publicly defended himself and cost of living issues have all served to erode public confidence.

These influential users knew how to capitalise on these events to increase negative sentiment further. They often leveraged on real events to keep users outraged instead of relying on misinformation.

Media coverage of the WSJ and Sarawak Report exposes that carried the false allegation or re-used unclear phrasing from WSJ have also contributed to this negative perception.

When we look at the graph of daily users tweeting about Najib this year, the percentage of users tweeting negative tweets is frequently higher than the percentage of users tweeting positive tweets since May 6th.

This change on May 6th was due to a high number of negative retweets linking Najib to the ‘missing money’ of RM43 billion from 1MDB. This took place hours before the Tabung Haji land deal leaked on Twitter.

najib_daily_sentiment_Jan1_Aug10_2015

As this is derived from tweets, there is some overlap between both groups of users. It is also based on automated sentiment analysis that is only 70% accurate. However the trend of negative user sentiment is there.

Over time the willingness of the public to listen to Najib has continued to decrease. Distrust of the government is at such a low point that denials do not gain traction.

Misinformation is readily accepted as truth as long as it reinforces existing beliefs. An anonymous user is perceived to have more credibility than a government agency.

False statements circulating online have succeeded in becoming the truth because Najib’s supporters and 1MDB’s defenders do not have the same reach on Twitter. Corrections and clarifying statements do not reach the masses, allowing them to be influenced by more popular users.

This is evidenced by the fact that 21 users had a negative influence on 47.64% of users. Anyone on Twitter trying to find more information about 1MDB in recent months would most likely come across content from these users.

For example, misinformation about the fire at Bukit Aman can still be searched for on Twitter:
bukitaman_api

Imagine this type of content spreading in real-time when users search for tweets on 1MDB.

The lack of influence by Najib and 1MDB’s supporters means they cannot rely on official Twitter accounts to convince people of their side of the story.

This is why ‘donations’ was not an acceptable explanation for the RM2.6 billion being in Najib’s accounts – people are convinced there is a link to 1MDB.

Police reports may work for fake accounts such as @BeritaTV3. However attempts to control social media or harass influential users will likely result in negative backlash and users turning to more private networks e.g. Whatsapp; Facebook.

On Twitter current user opinion on 1MDB and Najib is primarily divided into the following categories:

  1. Allegations against Najib and 1MDB need to be answered
  2. Investigations must be transparent and perceived to be free from interference
  3. Najib must step down as PM

Based on user opinions we have read we can suggest a few measures for Najib and 1MDB to deal with negative user perception on social media:

  • Disclosure on the source of the RM2.6 billion and how the money was spent
  • Exposing the alleged conspiracy to topple Najib; and proving that documents sold by Justo were doctored
  • Re-establishing the 1MDB special task force
  • Appointing a new Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman so the PAC investigations can resume
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Written by politweet

August 18, 2015 at 3:29 pm

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