Citizen satire in Malaysia and Singapore: why and how socio-political humour communicates dissent on Facebook
Thesis DisciplineMedia and Communications
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
“Citizen satire” is derived from “citizen journalism”, a term which describes the democratising characteristic of the Internet that allows citizens to decide for themselves what constitutes news (Higgie, 2015). In the same way, citizen satire is the democratised use of satire as part of “silly citizenship” (Hartley, 2010) to engage with politics through social media. This study explores the role of playful acts in civic discourse through four case studies of visual memes in Malaysia and Singapore. These two countries were chosen for their hybrid political nature, which places them as neither fully open nor fully authoritarian. The cases were selected based on the significance of the media events that the satire was based upon. Using an online ethnographical approach, two sites were located in Singapore (SMRT memes and SGAG’s response to the 6.9 million population White Paper) and two more in Malaysia (Prime Minister Najib’s kangkung memes and Teresa Kok’s ONEderful Malaysia YouTube video). Anderson’s (2012) media compass points comprising properties, processes, consequences and character, provided the scaffold for mapping the mediascape of the citizen satire at these ethnographic sites. Two overarching questions frame this thesis: Why do citizens use satire on Facebook to communicate their political opinions? How does citizen satire on Facebook contribute to civic discourse? Evidence that shows citizen satire can be a form of “defensive” weapon, as opposed to the traditional “offensive” or “passive/subversive” classification, was found. Also, the uses of citizen satire in these contexts were not forms of activism but bear closer resemblance to “heckling”. Although citizen satire fulfils important social functions in terms of building solidarity within the sites, as a social force, it is weak and appears to impact socio-political policies only indirectly and from a distance. However, there is evidence of political engagement among citizens resulting from the comments surrounding the memes posted within the sites. This data reinforces Buturoiu’s (2014, p. 47) metaphor of various online “working rooms” particularly on Facebook, serving as multiple smaller public spheres.