In this webinar, Dr Siti Mazidah Mohamad shared her observations on changing trends of Bruneian youths on their engagement with social media and how it had shaped the nation’s socio-cultural, religious, and political landscapes.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Monday, 27 March 2023 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Dr Siti Mazidah Mohamad (Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) to speak in a webinar titled “Bruneian Youths’ Social Media Engagements: Key Trends and Reflections”. Moderated by Dr Norshahril Saat (Senior fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme), Dr Mazidah shared her observations on young Bruneians’ interactions with social media and elaborated on how these sites had increasingly become spaces of civic engagement, self-expression as well as platforms for new religious expressions.
Dr Mazidah began her presentation by illustrating Brunei’s digital landscape, with internet and social media penetration standing at a high percentage of 98.1 and 94.4, respectively. The high usage of these technologies was also reflected in the increasing trend of internet users over time, with 442 thousand internet users in Brunei as of January 2023. Instagram remained the most popular social media platform (60% potential outreach), followed by Facebook and Twitter, making these platforms alternative sites for racial, political and religious engagements. This was bought about by the increased affordability and availability of broadband as well as high digital literacy among youths. Given that youth practices in Brunei can lead to wider sociocultural configurations, their interactions with these digital spaces have created new discourses and behavioural trends. Dr Mazidah highlighted three key trends: digital civic engagement and social justice, self-expression and influencing culture, and new religious expressions and lived religiosities.
In terms of digital civic engagement, Dr Mazidah observed that most of the prominent digital engagement concerns were usually initiated by global events circulated heavily within social media platforms. Dr Mazidah drew attention to three case studies, Black Lives Matter, the Palestine-Israeli conflict and the Me Too movement. Bruneian youths’ support towards Palestine is demonstrated through the sharing of videos of the attacks on their social media to protest against the violence as well as lobbying the community to boycott products sold by companies supporting Israel. Apart from that, the Palestine flag was used as a profile photo on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, as well as on fashion accessories which youths wore in protest of the violence. Netizens also used appropriate hashtags to further circulate the videos of the attacks, showing how the youths had effectively utilised the digital space for their civic engagement. Dr Mazidah, however, highlighted that as much as such activities were happening in the digital space, there were minimal impacts on society with regards to Black Lives Matter and no translation of these engagements to legal-related actions happened during that time.
Dr Mazidah proceeded to elaborate more on how the digital space had influenced identity expression among Bruneian youths. She observed that there were more rampant self-expressions among the youths, where self-branding, a strategy to attain social and economic status becomes common. The success of self-branding had also given rise to a growth in Bruneian social media influencers, covering various genres such as fashion, lifestyles, food and fitness. Even though the extent of influence from these social media influencers is still relatively small (in terms of followers) and contained within the local community, they have shown that it is possible to gain economic status from such self-branding.
Dr Mazidah observed a shift in social religious realities within Brunei in terms of new religious expression and lived religiosities. Circulation and production of religious knowledge had now shifted towards online platforms, in particular the emergence of One Minute Reminder (1MR) short videos as a mode of disseminating religious practices on social media platforms. These short and impactful videos were viewed as cool and highly informative among the younger generation, making it a key mode of consuming religious information in this current generation. This had also brought about a rise in content creators who used these methods to share religious teaching, even though they do not consider themselves preachers. Dr Mazidah also elaborated on new expressions of Islamic piety observed in social media. These new expressions were usually linked to the consumption of specific fashion brands such as “dUCk”, a hijab brand that had risen in popularity through celebrity endorsement on their social media. It was also linked to the rising individualism and affordability of these brands to the local masses, especially the middle-class Muslim youth. Dr Mazidah stated that blending fashion, fun and Islamic piety had become a new form of expressing Muslim performativity in the younger generation. In that sense, there is an evolution of youth culture where progressive Bruneian youths will become increasingly expressive as they take charge of reconfiguring their own lives through the digital landscape.
The webinar drew a total of 56 online participants from both Singapore and abroad. During the Q&A segment, the panel discussed a few key takeaways, focusing on issues such as the direct contribution of Bruneian youths toward social justice movements, the perspective of the older generation toward the proliferation of digital activities among youths, the consumption of news and religious materials through social media, the potentiality of translating digital civic engagement to offline advocacy as well as the policing strategies put in place to safeguard social media content. Dr Mazidah, therefore, believed there is a need to continuously observe the development of youth culture online as it will aid in understanding the inner workings of these young people and its potential implications on national policies in Brunei.