The commentary “Do ‘Friends’ And ‘Fans’ Equate To Votes” (October 30, 2010) by Miss Teo Wan Gek makes interesting observations about digital politics, and how Singaporean politicians are making more active use of social networking sites – specifically FaceBook and Twitter – to reach out to their constituents and the general public. Concurrently in the United States of America (USA) – with the upcoming midterm elections – political observers and media professionals have been engaged in discussions analysing the pros and cons of these approaches. Making use of FaceBook’s USA politics page, experts would be looking to draw correlations between the candidates actual mandate-percentage with the online statistics of the number of ‘friends’ or ‘fans’, week-to-week gains and the level of activity in the form of comments and posts.
Given that a consensus has yet to be reached in the USA – where on-line campaigning has evolved into a given rather than a newfangled approach – the jury is still out on how much social networking would benefit politicians in their campaigns.
Most evidently, the proliferation of technology and the Internet has empowered Singaporeans to be active users of sites; so having an online platform would increase the convenience of dialogue and exchanges. To some, the degree of connectivity is appreciated as well. Unlike traditional websites, FaceBook and Twitter provide an element of authenticity; in which viewers can be more convinced that they are genuinely communicating with their political representatives, instead of web-administrators or web-masters. Regular updates can be beneficial for increased engagement; while expert management would grant users the practical ability to straddle smoothly between on-line and off-line endeavours.
However, its functionality as a channel for feedback can be very limited. First, politicians who have thousands of ‘friends’ or ‘fans’ would find it almost impossible to sieve out any constructive feedback or criticism from an overflowing news feed. Second, beyond the sheer quantity of messages, in-depth discussions are virtually impossible given the fact that netizens are often polarised over particular issues. Given that the upcoming General Elections would involve more contentious concerns, supposed online “exchanges” would degenerate into mere bickering and heated conversations. Politicians from both the ruling party and the Opposition should be cognisant that social networking sites are, at the end of the day, mere platforms for fundamental establishment of recognition and basic comprehension of issues.
Ultimately, it is about striking equilibrium between usage and moderation: while FaceBook and Twitter can be effective mediums in certain areas of publicity and general discourse, they are hardly credible reflection of “support”, and neither would they replace the actual graft and hard work involved in vis-à-vis interactions to solve problems faced by constituents on a daily basis.