One down, one up: TikTok influencer keeps up the fight against censorship

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While an influencer is usually judged by the number of followers and subscribers on his or her social media accounts, that is no longer the goal for political TikToker Na’im Brundage.

More often than not, when he uploads content critical of the government, his account is deleted without notice.

Every time this happens, he loses all of his followers as well. 

This week, his TikTok account was deleted for the fifth time – but it did not take him long to create a sixth one. 

Now Na’im, who uploads short clips questioning the government’s actions through sarcasm and comedy, has set another goal for himself. 

“I’m aiming for 100 accounts by the end of the year,” he joked when asked by MalaysiaNow.

His last video was a criticism of Petaling Jaya MP Lee Chean Chung, who said the police probe of Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh was proof that the government was not conducting “selective” investigations.

Na’im had said that while politicians from all sides were investigated, no action had ever been taken or charges laid against anyone in government.

“The difference is that no action is taken after the investigations,” he said in the video uploaded on Sunday.

He cited examples of various investigations launched against DAP leaders Tony Pua, Howard Lee and Ngeh Koo Ham.

“And our favourite, the Agus case,” he said, referring to former director-general of the Community Communications Department (J-Kom) Mohammad Agus Yusoff, who resigned shortly after a sexually charged video call with a PKR man.

While Na’im has not faced any restrictions on YouTube, his TikTok accounts are a different story. 

The first time Na’im’s account was blocked was on Feb 20. He lost 120,400 followers after posting a video criticising the manner in which Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim responded to a reporter’s question on the ringgit’s decline.

On March 9, a second account with 35,000 followers was blocked.

These days, Na’im has accepted the fact that his TikTok accounts only have a lifespan of one to two weeks.

With a series of by-elections looming on the horizon, he expects this to be shortened even further. 

“I am always prepared with many new accounts waiting to be used in case my account is removed.”

According to Na’im, each time he creates a new account, it racks up millions of views in just a short period of time. 

He said many users were curious about the content of the deleted clips on TikTok and would try to find them on other platforms.

Na’im has nothing to say to the communications minisry or the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which has ordered TikTok and other platform providers to delete anti-government content.

“The more accounts are blocked, the more they will have to explain in court one day,” he said. 

MalaysiaNow has asked MCMC for a response.

Restrictions more frequent under Anwar

Na’im is not the only one facing online restrictions.

MalaysiaNow previously reported that many influencers critical of the government such as Ratu Naga and YB Viral have also had their TikTok accounts deleted.

Na’im Brundage informs his fans about his sixth TikTok account.

The blocking of anti-government content has been widespread under Anwar’s administration, although the government has denied its involvement.

However, Putrajaya has admitted to making requests through MCMC for platform providers like TikTok to delete certain videos. 

Shortly after coming to power in November 2022, the government threatened TikTok as it was unhappy over its wide use by opposition supporters.

So far, only the China-based TikTok appears to have complied with MCMC’s requests.

Other platforms such as X, YouTube and Facebook have repeatedly refused the government’s request to delete content, in line with their policy on free speech.

Since his appointment as minister in charge of media affairs, Fahmi Fadzil has come under criticism over action taken against media outlets.

In June last year, MalaysiaNow was blocked for 48 hours without any notice.

TV Pertiwi and Utusan TV have had their websites blocked as well, in addition to a blog run by former MP Wee Choo Keong.

Last year, Wee was granted leave to file a judicial review against MCMC for blocking access to his blog.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which publishes an annual media freedom index, has spoken out against the government’s apparent crackdown on freedom of expression.

“RSF is very concerned by this wave of suspensions by Malaysian authorities, without any explanations or judicial control, of news websites critical of the government,” RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau director Cedric Alviani said last September.

Malaysia improved its ranking in the Media Freedom Index for 2023, which is based on the results for 2022, the period before Anwar’s tenure. The index placed Malaysia at the top in Southeast Asia and at 73rd position globally.

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