The usage of the Internet and various social media tools has been discussed extensively, with The Straits Times running an assortment of features and reports – on new media efforts undertaken by politicians and political parties – throughout the past week. Discussion on whether the imminent General Elections would be a Social Media Election intensified after the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) was amended last year; and many political analysts have asserted that the accessibility of FaceBook, Twitter, Flickr et cetera would possibly be a game-changer. Nonetheless, although parties and individuals would get a freer hand to campaign virtually, they must be cognisant of the potential online pitfalls that could jeopardise their bids or adversely hurt their chances.
Off the get-go, voters would be confused with the plethora of mediums, site or group names; especially if multiple parties are intending to contest in a common constituency. Correspondingly, if political parties choose to bombard their target audience excessively with every single social medium available – therefore adopting an “as many as possible strategy” – the methodologies can appear insincere, and would be comparatively less substantial. The assumption that more “likes” or “followers” automatically translates into tangible support is a mere delusion; on the contrary, carelessness in web-management or poor regulation of postings can have severe repercussions.
Taking into consideration the aforementioned, it is important for politicians and parties to expound upon or justify the rationale and purposes for the array of engagement channels made available; they should not hop on the bandwagon, and pedantically create a web presence simply for the sake of having one. For instance, Twitter would be used for live event updates, while the FaceBook page would be dedicated to discussions on policy or parliamentary recommendations. If so, the involved political stakeholders must be prepared to actually fulfil these expectations. If residents or constituents are invited to provide feedback, criticisms or suggestions on a multitude of socio-economic or political issues, the online administrative team must be prepared to answer and respond actively.
What will happen after the elections? Sustainability is a crucial point as well. If users of these platforms or groups cannot think of ways to convert campaigning channels into engagement sites for long-term yields, then manpower and resources would be wasted.
Social media is not a bed of roses: if political groups and users do not approach this tricky minefield cautiously with a comprehensive plan, the ramifications could be far-reaching and devastating.