Notes from the Field

Malaysian Youth: Connected Yet Cautious

December 19, 2012

Last week, The Asia Foundation released “The Youth Factor: 2012 Survey of Malaysian Youth Opinion.” The nationwide survey, a continuation of a series of similar youth surveys conducted between 2006 and 2008, polled over 2,100 Malaysians between 17 and 35 years old, and provides a glimpse into the political, social, and economic views and practices of Malaysian youth.

Young Malaysians relax in KL

Despite having gained such traction among youth, compared to the other forms of mainstream mass media, the level of trust in the internet is strikingly low. Photo/Matthew Pendergast

Back in 2007, this survey observed that the growth of internet usage would continue to flourish in Malaysia. True to our prediction, the usage of the internet has increased tremendously over the past five years. I was 13 years old when I first created my email account. This was to be the tipping point, after which the internet nestled itself into my daily life. I now rely on it heavily for work and the most up-to-date information and news and I can’t imagine how I would stay connected with friends scattered all across the globe on different time zones if it weren’t for the internet. From the significant to the mundane, I turn to the internet.

It turns out that in this regard, I am not very different from other young Malaysians. Five years ago, 67 percent of Malaysian youth did not access the internet at all for information seeking, preferring instead traditional mainstream mass media. The new survey reveals that while youth still prefer the television (98%), newspapers (94%), and radio (75%) to the internet (63%) as a source for day-to-day information and news, the percentage of youth that absolutely do not look to the internet for information has dropped to a mere 2 percent this year. And, 44 percent access the internet daily for this purpose.

A rather surprising survey finding is the absence of a significant digital divide between urban and rural youth, with 66 percent from urban areas accessing the internet for information compared with 56 percent from rural areas. According to the Freedom on the Net 2012 Report, internet penetration had reached over 60 percent of the Malaysian population by 2011, which indicates the increasing ease of accessing the internet throughout the country and that the gap between urban and rural users is shrinking.

According to the survey, young Malaysians look to the internet for a variety of purposes, but the top three activities are: chatting with friends (74%), checking emails (68%), and social networking (65%). Just under half (47.9%) of Malaysia’s population uses Facebook, and Malaysia is now the 18th highest country in terms of Facebook users overall.

However, despite having gained such traction among youth, compared to the other forms of mainstream mass media, the level of trust in the internet is strikingly low – only 56 percent trust information obtained from the internet compared to 76 percent trust in television. As Malaysia’s 13th general elections near, candidates will no doubt look to the internet to sway young Malaysian voters. How much the internet influences this young generation – and the direction of the election – will be revealing.

Nur Azrina Azhar is The Asia Foundation’s senior program officer in Malaysia. She can be reached at azrina@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.

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