Bouncing back through social media
PAP candidate Tin Pei Ling, flamed online during GE 2011, has made social media work for her
Former Marine Parade MP Tin Pei Ling was vilified on social media soon after she was introduced as a new candidate in the 2011 General Election.
But she has become popular with her constituents in the MacPherson ward in Marine Parade GRC.
Ironically, this came about mainly due to her use of social media.
There was an online backlash against the youngest People's Action Party (PAP) candidate in 2011 after a photo of her posing with a Kate Spade box went viral. Things got worse when she said her biggest regret was not taking her parents to Universal Studios Singapore.
But after she was elected, Ms Tin often posted photos and updates about her grassroots activities and issues that she spoke about in Parliament.
Singapore Management University Associate Professor Eugene Tan said: "By posting updates on the ground and sharing her thoughts online, she has used social media as a virtual extension of herself.
"And by taking ownership of her image online, she has further supplemented her connection with voters on the ground.
"Authenticity is key here. Had they felt a disconnection from her online persona and how she is on the ground, she wouldn't be as popular."
Ms Tin, who is contesting in a three-way fight in MacPherson SMC, which was carved out of Marine Parade, is not the only politician engaging voters on social media.
Almost every politician now has a presence on social media.
Dr Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said: "No political party can afford to ignore social media."
This is a stark contrast to the 2011 General Election, when the ruling PAP was the least active on Facebook, according to an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) study on the impact of new media in that election.
The Reform Party and National Solidarity Party were the most active.
Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin told The New Paper: "I see social media as another medium for engagement. It complements rather than replaces existing modes of interaction."
Mr Tan posts updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regularly. Some posts are personal and refer to his family life.
In a recent Facebook post, Mr Tan wrote: "Long day. Managed to catch the kids before they sleep. Had little chats with them in their rooms before they turned in for the day. Amidst the helter-skelter of the elections, this is a little oasis of calm."
He also often posts fun photos with cats and, yes, food as well. (We now know that his favourite orh luak, or oyster omelette, is in Chinatown.)
Workers' Party candidate Daniel Goh, who has also been active on Facebook, was lauded by many for his heartfelt and authentic posts.
The sociology professor at the National University of Singapore was thrust into the spotlight after an e-mail alleging that he had an affair with a former student was sent to the media.
Mr Goh "categorically refuted these baseless allegations" to the media as well as on social media. He also shared updates and his thoughts on the situation.
Prof Tan said: "Goh took proper ownership and responded in a timely manner to an issue that he knew voters would be concerned about.
"He definitely wasn't economical in trying to reach out to voters and his authenticity came through. His posts were also crafted in a way that was engaging."
But experts said that being on social media may not be enough for politicians to reach out to voters.
Dr Ang said: "People are migrating to closed chat groups through services such as WhatsApp and WeChat and it is harder to reach them through social media.
"The closed groups are like friends having a conversation and then you, a stranger, butt in saying: 'Vote for my party.' Unless you get invited in, it is impossible to have a genuine, engaging conversation."
Dr Carol Soon, a research fellow at IPS, wrote last month in a commentary on the IPS website: "Post the 2011 GE, the proliferation of smartphones and Instant Messaging applications like WhatsApp have boosted the sharing of political news, pictures and videos. Hence we anticipate a greater volume of information exchange and discussion among users for the coming election."
But whether the politicians can penetrate these closed groups to reach out to gain new supporters remains to be seen.
As Dr Ang told TNP: "I think the political parties will have to be even more creative."
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