Polls and clout of social media

Recent findings released by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) showed that social media was widely used during the Sept 11 General Election. 

About 79 per cent of the 2,000 citizens of voting age surveyed turned to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs or forums to get election-related information.

Despite the large percentage of users, such platforms did not play a decisive role in the way they voted, researchers found.

One reason was that more than half of the respondents had already made up their minds on who to vote for before Nomination Day.

Another was how an overwhelming number of social media users - almost 99 per cent - also relied on traditional media sources for GE-related news.

Still, social media is set to play a larger role in politics in the coming years, for both politicians and the electorate. There are currently about 3.5 million active Facebook users and more than 2.5 million Twitter users in Singapore. Observers expect these numbers to grow.

The IPS findings showed that social media users were younger than non-users, which can only mean that their say will increase in future polls.

Social media can be a bane or boon for politicians.

On the one hand, it allows them to reveal to the public choice insights into their lives, and on their own terms. They get to control the news and to manage their public image.

On the other hand, an active social media presence can backfire if politicians are not quick-witted or savvy enough to overcome detractors or crises.

Canadian politician Katherine Swampy knows this only too well - last month, she came under fire when a screengrab of a profanity-laden post she had put up in 2011, before she went into politics, resurfaced.

In an age where screengrabs can immortalise any mistake or hastily written post, politicians need to tread the fine line between making use of social media to their benefit, and becoming a victim of it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Polls and clout of social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe