Hard to ascertain influence of social media in politics

SOCIAL media may have heightened the sense of nearness between politicians and their constituents, but it does not guarantee a dialogic communication or a cooperative and communicative relationship ("Social media's influence in S'pore politics here to stay"; last Friday).

It is hard to ascertain the influence of social media in politics, and even harder to determine if social media engagement has tangible impact on legitimising government decisions, promoting co-ownership for shaping policies, or raising citizen trust.

I enjoy the occasional social media post from our ministers and MPs. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong snaps nice photos of his excursions around Singapore, and Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam's video A Day In The Life Of A Minister was a unique glimpse into his exhausting daily routine.

Many others are eager to share interactions with residents or their grassroots work.

However, thoughtful discourse is rare. If politicians do not go beyond manicured statements on events or superficial posts of their daily undertakings, it is difficult to evaluate social media's impact on governance.

Amid the sheer volume of comments, "likes" and "retweets", it is not clear if the aggregated perspectives guide policy decisions. In any event, observers have also pointed to the proliferation of "echo chambers", where like-minded individuals congregate to reaffirm their own perceptions.

In this vein, the positive assessment of social media may be a tad optimistic.

It might make more sense to describe social media use as a prerequisite for our politicians. How they use it beyond the cosmetic posts of their roles and responsibilities is up in the air.

The tangible influence of social media in politics will be evident only if politicians dabble in meaningful socio-economic commentary, if they use the many responses they receive online, and if they engage in spaces beyond their spheres of influence.

The Internet brims with diversity, but this has yet to feature in Singapore.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'Hard to ascertain influence of social media in politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe