Who runs the Facebook pages of cabinet ministers? Who pays them?

In early 2019, Facebook released a new tool called ‘Page Transparency’ which allows people access to more information about a page and who is managing it. The tool is intended to help users determine whether a page can be trusted or not. The Page Transparency tab shows users information about when the page was created, a history of page name changes, and how many managers the page has as well as the location of those managers.

Now, a quick look at the Facebook pages of Singapore’s cabinet ministers shows that their pages are all managed by people in Singapore – with the exception of the Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong’s page which has no page managers listed at all.

Pages by cabinet ministers appear to be run by as little as 2 managers per page (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Heng Swee Keat) to as many as 19 managers (Minister of Defence, Ng Eng Hen).

The Facebook page of the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, is managed by 11 people based in Singapore.

Being public figures busy with important jobs, these ministers have thousands – and in the case of PM Lee, millions – of followers on social media. So it makes sense that they would have a team of people running their social media accounts, keeping an eye on their corner of cyberspace.

In an interview by MediaCorp reported on by Asia One in April 2019, PM Lee revealed that he has a ‘small team’ supporting his online activity, adding that he does try to vet everything before it’s posted. The team apparently plans the premier’s posts about one to two weeks in advance while Mr Lee himself will, from time to time, share his own random photos and musings.

The PM didn’t reveal how many people were on this social media support team.

This raises the question: How much national resources are being channelled by cabinet ministers or even Ministers of State into social media support teams for their personal outreach?

Surely the official Facebook pages of these ministers are not run by volunteers nor should they be, given that the pages are by default considered sources of official information. In fact, when a post is made on cabinet minister’s verified Facebook page – the one with the blue tick – we all assumed it comes directly from said minister unless otherwise stated. It’s what counts as official nowadays.

But given that these ministers are very busy with the serious business of running a country, they must have a team of people helping them with social media, like the PM does. And given that they are government employees, their staff would be paid on the government’s dime as well.

Having said that, the expenses of managing these social media pages of current cabinet ministers is questionable, particularly because these same pages which are boosted by the efforts of public servants or contractors paid by public monies, will be used by those politicians as a tool in their election campaign, paid for by taxpayers.

To put it to perspective, even if the politician is to step down from his or her position, or even voted out of office, the Facebook page remains the property of the politician. So is it right to enhance the value of one’s asset using public resources?

Given that DPM Teo Chee Heng has proclaimed that Singapore government practice a clean wage system when asked about the actual pay of Ministers, should there be transparency in the financing of the social media pages and various platforms of the politicians? Not to forget, our politicians are already the highest paid in the world.

TOC has reached out to the cabinet ministers for their comments.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) confirmed that the Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong “manages his own Facebook page with support by Ministry staff for MND-related content”. Mr Wong is also the Second Minister for Finance.

Update 14/6:

Similar to MND, The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) has also confirmed that “Minister Masagos Zulkifli manages his own Facebook page, with support from MEWR staff for Ministry-related content.”