Trolls at the polls

What cyberharassment, online political activism, and baiting algorithms can show us about the rise and fall of Pakatan Harapan (May 2018-February 2020)

  • Clarissa Ai Ling Lee Jeffrey Cheah institute of Southeast Asia, Sunway University, Malaysia
  • Eric Kerr Asia Research Institute and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore
Keywords: internet trolling, Malaysia, digital platforms, algorithms, justice, gender, social media, Facebook, Twitter, microcelebrity, Pakatan Harapan


This article considers how politically motivated Internet trolling, within the context of Malaysia from May 2018 until February 2020, made use of affordances of algorithms and platforms to achieve their goals, from targeted attacks on individuals to collective interventions for advancing social and informational justice. Centering on the importance of digital platforms and algorithms in framing and shaping online communication, this article explores the decisions, actions, and policies which, framed and shaped by these algorithms, produced a particular space in Malaysian political discourse that enables Internet-based political trolls. Attention is given to the infrastructure of trolling, as well as the platforms supporting and cultivating the practice of trolling that are usually international in their ownership, development, and user base. By focusing on the trollish practices of a “minor” non-Western community in Asia, we attempt to theorize the effects of digital infrastructure at the periphery of multinational platforms based on participant-observation research and media-textual analysis.

Author Biographies

Clarissa Ai Ling Lee, Jeffrey Cheah institute of Southeast Asia, Sunway University, Malaysia

Clarissa Ai Ling Lee is a research fellow at the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development and the Jeffrey Cheah Institute of Southeast Asia at Sunway University in Malaysia. She was a co-investigator to the pre-GCRF seed grant project ImaginAging, and the AHRC-granted ProtopolicyAsia project respectively. She works at the intersection of science, technology, and innovation studies, design research, future studies, media studies, and sustainable development, and has either been published or is about to be published in the aforementioned areas. She is a transdisciplinary scholar and an arts-science ideas creator. At present, she is engaged in developing a project on information asymmetry and wellbeing at the time of pandemic. She tweets as @normasalim.

Eric Kerr, Asia Research Institute and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore

Eric Kerr is a Lecturer at the National University of Singapore. He  holds a joint appointment at Tembusu College and the Science, Technology  and Society Cluster (Asia Research Institute) where he writes on digital culture, engineering, and philosophy of technology.

How to Cite
Lee, C. A. L., & Kerr, E. (2020). Trolls at the polls. First Monday, 25(6).