Cabinet ministers are no commercial social media influencers
By Zan Azlee
“Influencer marketing (also influence marketing) is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole on social media. It identifies the individuals who have influence over potential customers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.” – Wikipedia
“A member of the executive branch of a government who has been appointed to the cabinet, the group of leading policymakers, advisers, and overseers of governmental departments who report to the prime minister.” – Wiktionary
“A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests, financial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another. Typically, this relates to situations in which the personal interest of an individual or organization might adversely affect a duty owed to make decisions for the benefit of a third party.” – Wikipedia
I’m sorry for starting out by quoting these definitions. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of Malaysians, both lay people and cabinet ministers, I feel that their ignorance requires that we define it clearly so that they understand the argument that I am trying to make here.
First of all, I will state the obvious. I strongly believe that a cabinet minister cannot use his or her influence to promote any business or corporation with the intention of increasing that business or corporation’s profit. That would be a conflict of interest because, err, just refer to the third definition above.
Let’s bring attention to the debacle regarding our Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, and local soft drink company Hausboom founder, Azri Zahier Azmi (photo, left). Apparently, promises were made whereby the minister would promote Hausboom to the cabinet and on his Instagram page. And apparently, these promises were not fulfilled.
The war of words between the two individuals on social media and the news media has gone extremely viral. Of course, both defended themselves rather aggressively. But that isn’t the point, and neither is it important what both sides of the argument are. No one could care less about the details of who was right or wrong in their deal.
What is of significance is that all of these are just strong points that justify the fact that cabinet ministers should not be promoting businesses. It is problematic in so many ways. Not the least would be that it could create so many opportunities for it to be abused by both sides. Who is to say that there wouldn’t be any ‘under the table’ transfers happening?
I am not implying that this is the case with what has happened recently. All I am saying is that something like this might create the opportunity for it. If, in fact, there is an independent committee that determines who is deserving to be promoted by the minister and ministry, let the method of selection be transparent so the public can see it.
With that being said, making promises that a minister would be involved in promoting business ventures is totally different from having government policies that help and encourage local businesses to grow and prosper. It is much easier to be independent and transparent. It is the job of the government to create opportunities for industry anyway.
But when an individual who has extreme clout and influence (some might even say the power of intimidation) such as a cabinet minister were to be involved in the marketing of a business or product, then it has to be ethically wrong. It’s also very different from being a social influencer who gets endorsements and sponsorships.
It is the modus operandi of an influencer like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid or Jinny Boy to sell out and accept money in exchange for social media posts that promote products, events or businesses. It is not the modus operandi of a cabinet minister to do it as it could definitely interfere with his or her actual duty of serving the people.
It’s one thing for a cabinet minister to casually talk about something, someone or some organisation he likes and believes in. It’s a different thing altogether when it becomes a transaction where there is an exchange of services, whether it be a financial transaction in kind or even favours.
As reportedly mentioned by Hausboom’s founder, they had studied Syed Saddiq’s Instagram stats and decided it to be worth it for them to officially collaborate. That means the cabinet minister could have been perceived as a social media influencer. What additional perception does that create? Where is the credibility, integrity and independence in that?
[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]
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