Sunday, April 24, 2011

Role of Social Media in Singapore General Elections 2011

On 22 April 2011, The Kent Ridge Common published an article by Lester Lim titled “Drawing the Line on Internet Debates”.  In his article on the Singapore General Election 2011, Lester argued that no one is perfect and that, in the era of social media, flaws in every candidate can be found if one looks hard enough. Lester then went on to assert that these “splinters of information” may in fact be inaccurate, taken out of context, or even possibly malicious and basing one's vote based solely on these information is dangerous. In Lester's view, all information on social media, or for that matter even on the main stream media, must be read with healthy skepticism.

While I fully agree with Lester's view that information on social media is prone to inaccuracies and subject to malicious manipulations, I however feel that an Internet savvy electorate can discern fact from fiction. As such, contrary to what Lester asserts, I believe that the Internet's ability to provide instantaneous news on a 24/7 basis, consolidated and indexed via intelligent search engines, has made it the ideal platform for political candidates (and organisations) to engage their opposition and win their constituents over.

This is because social media is beyond the control of any individual or organisation, and coupled with its ubiquitous nature, social media has created a 'perfect information' environment where anything of importance will be made public and false or deliberately misleading statements revealed. Thus, as expounded in economic theory, with perfect information, stakeholders behaving rationally will make the best decision and choose the “best” candidate to represent them.

For example, without social media, I doubt that the People's Action Party's (PAP) March 1987 condescending dismissal of Opposition Member Chaim See Tong's call to reduce full-time National Service would have surfaced to remind the electorate that the PAP does not have a monopoly on ideas. Or Sylvia Lim's convincing 2007 parliamentary statement arguing against multi-million dollar salaries for ministers. Or the political wrangling within the Reform Party that questions the party's ability to mount a credible challenge in the coming elections.

Without these “splinters of information”, voters would not have a complete picture of the General Elections and would be less equipped to choose the “best” candidate to represent them. At the end of the day, it is my opinion that far from being something voters should avoid or read with skepticism, information on social media (however splintered) is useful in providing voters with a clearer understanding of the situation and will ultimately help them make the "right" choice.

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