Last Saturday, The Straits Times ran an interesting special report on “The Social Politician” (January 14, 2012), which not only looked at the online involvement efforts of our Members of Parliament (MP), but also developed intriguing frameworks to evaluate their overall effectiveness. I figured it would be quite enlightening to look at some perspectives that have been highlighted, as well as areas that might have been overlooked.
Highlights From The Study
1. Social media has become the new normal: if used intelligently, sincere engagement can yield passionate responses and generate meaningful conversations; on the other hand, poorly-intended posts would bring about undesired ramifications on the Internet.
2. There appears to be a correlation between hot-topics issues, and the level of activity of the Cabinet ministers heading the respective ministries: Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan (the consistent “ponding” and “flooding” woes), Mr. Khaw Boon Wan (previously healthcare concerns, and now worries over public housing prices), and Mr. Teo Chee Hean (defence-related considerations in the past, and now home affairs).
3. I thought the example drawn from Mr. Chen Show Mao’s FaceBook page (right) was good food for thought.
4. I am heartened by the fact that more and more MPs have chosen to use the aforementioned channels to expound upon policy discussions and concentrations. It signals growing willingness to heighten discourse, and listen to on-the-ground sentiments.
Areas For Potential Improvement
1. Do opposition MPs have an advantage or edge over their People’s Action Party (PAP) counterparts? My gut feel – based on various observations in cyberspace – is that there is inherent bias against the PAP politicians and backbenchers (online anti-establishment sentiments could easily be carried over to social networking platforms as well).
I think it would have been interesting to see the responses of ordinary Singaporeans if they were presented with anonymous status updates or tweets. Objectively, we would be able to see what appeals to individuals, what connects, and what is actually desired.
2. Do users employ the use of moderation? Do they have an established set of guidelines or methodologies when it comes to the removal of content? How heavy is the moderation?
3. The study also gave very simplistic definitions on how comments left by netizens were considered to be “positive” or “negative” (determined by a group of human analysts). It would be time-consuming, yes; but I was looking for more specifics. For example, when discussing about “negative” posts, are these posts directed to the government or a party? Are they making specific contentions against the issues, or providing generalised oppositions? Do politicians ever respond do these “negative” feedback, or to explain?
Side Note: The Predilection For PollDaddy
Last week, administrators of the local newspaper ran an ad-hoc poll titled “Which MP do you think is the most effective at using social media” on the PollDaddy website. Given the timing of the special report, it appeared to a number of my friends that The Straits Times was going to base its analysis and commentaries upon the poll results per se. The poll itself was a ridiculous laundry-list of all the names of the political representatives.
“In the run-up to, and even after the May 2011 General Election, more Members of Parliament began using social media to reach out to citizens. The Straits Times – as part of a special that will be published this weekend – would like to know first, who you think is the MP who is most effective in using social media to extend his or her influence”.
Thankfully not; regardless, such a quantitative endeavour appears to be mediocre at best, and serves no tangible purpose whatsoever.