“What have politicians and political candidates done right in their use of social media? It humanises them. For example, when they are seen enjoying a glass of coffee or a bowl of noodles” (Social Media ‘Humanises Politicians’, Mr. Gerrard Lai).
Much has been said about social media, and its potential corresponding influences in the upcoming General Elections (GE); Foreign Minister George Yeo’s affirmations – expounded in the interview “Social Media ‘Humanises Politicians’” (April 7, 2011) by Mr. Gerrard Lai – coupled by the increased legislative leeway in online political campaigning and advertising, reflects the administration’s commitment to outreaches through the Internet and social media. Incumbent politicians and newly-unveiled election candidates have been swarming to social networking sites such as FaceBook and Twitter en masse, seeking to increase their virtual presence and simultaneously reach out to constituents. However, what many of these individuals – including Minister Yeo – have overlooked is the need to go beyond superficial engagement, and utilise the aforementioned platforms to interact with voters more substantively.
Assorted updates on the politicians’ day-to-day activities, from their on-the-ground walkabouts to habitual activities, do go a long way in “humanising” the politicians. With increased connectivity and accessibility, a constant maintenance of this web presence creates an impression of them being Average Joes who are in touch with the hubbub in communities. More specifically, first-hand perspectives on diplomatic experiences and overseas trips by Minister Yeo – given his portfolio – can be interesting and enlightening.
Nonetheless, what puzzles most Singaporeans is the observation that many politicians and candidates have not actively used the very same platforms to discuss or expound upon their positions on various socio-economic issues. Informed voters would be curious to comprehend where their representatives stand on matters of national concern, and whether they can suggest a multitude of policy recommendations. Penning online articles and commentaries can provide additional channels for dialogue and discussions; and such discourse will cement their quality as present or future parliamentarians. Such methodologies for substantial communication are certainly more constructive than the banal or superficial “having a glass of coffee” or “at community event” updates.
References are consistently drawn to Barack Obama’s use of the Internet in the 2008 United States Presidential Election; if so, our politicians should be cognisant of the fact that President Obama and his team dedicated an overwhelming majority of their posts and updates to addressing tangible issues. Videos, notes and comment threads were created for users to candidly talk about unemployment, the rising costs of living, education deficiencies, healthcare and mortgage displeasures et cetera.
Online interactions cannot be shallow endeavours. Our political candidates can take a leaf out of President Obama’s book, and seek to render their campaigns more holistic in style and substance. There are so many concerns that Singaporeans would like to candidly converse about; and if the candidates can be facilitators in these processes, why not?