More politicians harness social media to enhance public outreach

Left: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seen here with actor Ranveer Singh, has roped in Bollywood stars in his bid for a second term in office. Right: South Korean President Moon Jae-In stroking his pet dog, Tory, in his Seoul residence.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seen here with actor Ranveer Singh, has roped in Bollywood stars in his bid for a second term in office. PHOTOS: RANVEEROFFICIAL/TWITTER, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Politicians around the world have taken to social media to amplify their voices, sway election outcomes and give their public personas a bit of a shine.

Take Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who is expected to be confirmed for a second term when the official results of last month's election are made known this week.

Last year, Indonesian media company IDN Times published a list of 47 "influencers" who had pledged to back Mr Joko's campaign. Among them were politicians and businessmen, but there were also celebrities with millions of followers on Instagram.

Mr Joko - who goes by the popular moniker Jokowi - has peppered his speeches with pop-culture references to Game of Thrones and the Avengers to appeal to the millennial crowd, which made up nearly half the electorate.

The same scenario has played out in elections all over the world. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enlisted the help of Bollywood stars in his current bid for a second term in office.

As Indian film producer Mahaveer Jain said: "He recognises the soft power of Bollywood, and the impact it can have."

 South Korean President Moon Jae-In stroking his pet dog, Tory, in his Seoul residence.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In stroking his pet dog, Tory, in his Seoul residence. PHOTOS: RANVEEROFFICIAL/TWITTER, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Politicians have also used social media to present a softer - and hopefully more relatable - side of themselves to the people.

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, has pictures of his family dressed up in Halloween costumes on his Instagram page, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in has a photo of himself stroking his pet dog, Tory.

And United States President Donald Trump often takes to Twitter - not to sell policy, but to sell his unfiltered point of view, said academic Augustine Pang, a professor of Communication Management (Practice) at the Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business.

"Through social media, (Mr Trump) has direct access to the public; he gets to tell his side of the story," Prof Pang said.

But this soft-sell tactic can also backfire.

Last year, Australian media outlets reported that the country's government had banned the use of social media influencers in government campaigns. The decision followed reports that the Australian Health Department had spent more than AUD$600,000 (S$568,000) over 18 months on an influencer-led health campaign with limited results.

Linette Lai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 19, 2019, with the headline 'More politicians harness social media to enhance public outreach'. Print Edition | Subscribe