While Social Media Week 2012 conferences were held in various locations around the globe, Malaysia can tout one of the most interesting and dynamic events. The Malaysia Social Media Week 2012 (MSMW2012) conference held in Kuala Lumpur February 13-17 brought in diverse speakers from across the globe to interact with the country's robust blogging and new media entrepreneur communities.
From political bloggers (Malaysia ranks among the highest per capita in the world) to regional new media application developers, participants were given a unique opportunity to engage with a diverse blend of high ranking business leaders, government officials and journalists. The event was sponsored by the Social Media Chambers, a regional NGO dedicated to facilitating dialogue, best-practice training and social media advocacy.
A panel of International journalists including Asian Correspondent publisher James Craven and Asia Provocateur writer Andrew Spooner engaged with Malaysian journalists on the evolving social media impact on politics and free speech. Social media experts like South Africa's Dave Duarte, India's Pradeep Chopra and Murray Newlands from San Francisco shared best-practices and research insights informing more effective use of new media tools. And, all of us were introduced to Malaysian social media leaders and their experiences using new digital channels to share and export information on local food, entertainment, travel and other societal and cultural aspects of the region.
High ranking government officials participated and listened throughout the conference as both local and international bloggers, politicians and activists discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by social media. Elected officials and candidates from multiple parties and opposing viewpoints shared panel sessions and openly discussed the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of social media's influence on Malaysia's political system (experiences, worth noting, which are not unique to Malaysia). I participated in numerous panels discussing regulatory, political and business challenges and opportunities where government ministers, business leaders and political party representatives engaged in real dialogue on contentious issues.
Diverse and opposing views were openly but civilly aired -- a very positive sign at at time when such interactions and engagements are often rare or non-existent. This, in particular, was a refreshing contrast to political blogging conferences in the United States (e.g., CPAC and Netroots) where typically only those with shared ideologies sit with one another presenting escalating and one-sided attacks on those who oppose their views. Australian Green Party and former Senator Andrew Bartlett, an MSMW speaker, noted the critical importance of bridging divergent political philosophies and the opportunities social media engagement offers to achieve real and positive movement benefiting people throughout the region.
The MSMW 2012 created an important opening and potential example of positive engagement for other countries grappling with political, commercial and societal issues which are arising from rapid adoption and new accessibility to social media tools. Further, it helped enlarge the view into other positive social, cultural and environmental aspects of Malaysia that can help inform and engage audiences outside the country with shared interests in travel, food or entertainment. Such topics and shared interests can help transcend often polarizing political discourse which too often dominates online dialogue and mainstream media.
This positive engagement should be noted and encouraged for the openings it is creating by groups researching and evaluating democracy, free speech and social media issues. MSMW 2012 can serve as a model step forward for others navigating the challenges and opportunities presented by ever increasing social media adoption and opening of new communication channels both inside and outside their countries.
Jay Byrne is president of v-Fluence Interactive.