Virtually important

Virtually important
PHOTO: Berita Harian, The Straits Times, The New Paper

He has a personal Facebook account that he uses once in a while.

But Member of Parliament Gan Thiam Poh's public Facebook page is updated every other day with photos of house visits and posts on updates in his constituency.

"It's for the residents," the MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol told The New Paper.

Set up in the days leading up to the 2011 General Election (GE), it has helped to bridge the time gap, as residents can have first-hand information quickly, he explained.

But he draws the line at constituency-related updates, as he believes more personal things should be reserved for face-to-face interactions.

"Residents have told me that (the visits) are more important. They prefer to see me in person and I, too, prefer to see them in person."

Unlike Mr Gan, Tampines MP Baey Yam Keng peppers his posts with snippets of his personal life - his workout regime, what he had for lunch or his selfies.

"I think voters would be interested to know about MPs or candidates, to know our interests, our views, to relate more to us as a person," he said.

"Besides voting for the party's political ideology, it's also voting for the person. Social media allows that side of you to be revealed."

For Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, social media has become a battleground for garnering support.

"Elections are fought on many fronts, of which social media is one of them," said the Workers' Party NCMP, who became an active Facebook user and blogger since 2011 GE.

For Singapore People's Party member Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, social media platforms offer an alternative channel for expressing views.

"Many citizens are increasingly relying on social media to seek the balance of the views and news not covered by mainstream media," she said.

Political analysts The New Paper spoke to said politicians have been embracing social media to reach out to the digital natives.

Covering all bases

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "They need to cover all the bases since many people, especially the young ones and busy working folks, get their news through online sources," he said.

In the upcoming GE, which many suspect will take place next month, political analyst Eugene Tan said "it is clear that candidates would also have to do virtual campaigning".

Despite its growing influence, the Singapore Management University law don does not think it will be a game changer.

"At the moment, social media sites still operate very much like echo chambers. Readers gravitate to the sites where the views and content are very much aligned with their own political inclination and perspective," he said.

He added that social media can make a difference only if it manages to persuade someone to change his views about the different parties.

Assoc Prof Tan Ern Ser pointed out that while it is easy to "like" a post or follow a politician on social media, the question is whether the same people are willing to help canvass for votes for the politician.

"It doesn't take a lot of effort - you can be controversial and online traffic goes your way. But what matters is getting people to change their minds and to vote for you," he said.

Which politician do they think is the best at the social media game?

Assoc Prof Tan Ern Ser said that while he cannot compare, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is "doing very well".

Prof Eugene Tan cited names like Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, Aljunied MP Chen Show Mao and PM Lee.

"There is no shortage of examples but those who can convert their social media presence and popularity into physical presence and real-time popularity are the ones who have actually used social media effectively and with very powerful outcomes," he said.


This article was first published on August 3, 2015.
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