On 7th May 2011, Singapore held its general elections but the Singapore media noted that social networking media made a difference in this year’s election as compared to previous years. Indeed, social networking media definitely played a part in swaying the voter’s hearts for the big night.
Nicole Seah, a 24 year old contesting politician for example, made her online presence on Facebook and garnered 18,900 fans on her page surpassing another politician, Foreign Minister George Yeo’s 18,700 fans, who had a headstart for three years. Young politicians like Nicole Seah are using social media to reach out to young voters in Singapore who were once apathetic about politics. Soial networking tools like Facebook and Twitter are a great way to engage with these young voters who are heavy users of social media.
Her use of social media has been described as a “breath of fresh air” in this year’s election. While political party People’s Action Party (PAP) has been dominating the elections in the previous years, Nicole Seah’s move on the social networking site means that first of all she will be able to express views and thoughts without the traditional gatekeeping mechanisms of old media. Where once politicians had to put out views and thoughts that aligned with the government on Singapore’s state-controlled media, politicians can now speak outside of the control of dominant media- and still be heard.
Secondly, with her move to the social networking site, Nicole Seah is not just speaking to her voters. She is hearing them speak as well. Voters can raise issues they would like to see addressed and can leave comments and support for politicians.
I think it’s a great way of getting young people who are typically apathetic about politics to start using a platform they are familiar with to voice out issues. Typically, Generation Y voters often feel threatened by politics and formal political space such as Meet-the people’s session, parliament sessions, Minister’s speeches and so on. Social networking space is a great way to get them interested in politics at a site where they are comfortable with. And Gen Y’s don’t even have to talk about big issues, they can always start with local community issues at the grassroots level – schools, neighbourhoods- things they not only have a genuine concern about, but also things they are familiar with so they don’t feel intimidated by ‘big issues’ often raised in public spaces and know that they can still contribute to the local politics scene.
In fact, I believe that when politicians start putting news excerpts, articles or political event invites on Facebook, youths can be more attuned to what is going on in politics because these information are aggregated on the news feed pages of Facebook for these young people and the information is that much more visible for them to take notice in the private space. Politics on Facebook is such a crazy, but good idea.