The politics of social media

May 11th, 2011

Singapore’s well-regarded foreign minister George Yeo is on his way out of office, and politics, after last week’s elections in the city-state where the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) ended up with the worst electoral performance in its history.

But this is not about the PAP. Or Singaporean politics, for that matter, which will see the Opposition control the maximum number of seats in Parliament: Six out of 87 seats.

Rather, this is about social media and the recurring representation of its influence on contemporary politics starting, possibly, from the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

Even Obama, it would be fair to say, would not have perceived the dissymmetric impact of social media, first in the uprisings in Iran and subsequently, the Facebook-led political renaissance of sorts in Egypt.

The electoral results in Singapore, however, are a more pragmatic representation of the weight that can be assigned to social media, especially in a country where mainstream news organisations are regulated.

It was in these recent hustings in the island-nation that social media was allowed as a legitimate platform for the first time, and Singaporeans, with a known penchant for everything technology, look to the internet with unusual gusto.

In conversations with locals, I have been made to understand that the internet, or more specifically social media, has emerged as a sort of liberated zone for political discussions.

The Agence France-Presse today reported that “Nicole Seah, 24, who lost as an opposition candidate in Saturday’s election, had close to 97,000 “likes” on her public Facebook page on Tuesday, overtaking a page set up by supporters of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, 87.”

Seah, the report added, has gone back to her day job in advertising, but even Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is said to have acknowledged the role of social media in shaping an electoral result that marks a “distinct shift” in the country’s political landscape.

Incidentally, in the run-up to the vote, Prime Minister Lee had even hosted an hour-long Facebook chat.

For India, where the internet finally emerged as a platform in the last general elections, there are lessons to be learnt.

Moving beyond the perfunctory blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts, Indian politicians would do well to consider social media as a medium for interaction rather than mere new-age compulsion.

Given India’s demographics, and newly-discovered affinity for technology, the internet provides the option of a continued political dialogue, and not just the usual forceful dose of rhetoric weeks before a vote.

But then, there is a flipside to being overtly connected. A certain Indian junior minister for external affairs will vouch for it. politics of social media digg:The politics of social media newsvine:The politics of social media reddit:The politics of social media Y!:The politics of social media