Opposition parties make use of social media to leverage against Singapore’s biased media landscape to reach more voters

Singapore’s next General Election (GE) is expected to be drawing near this year, although the current administration People’s Action Party (PAP) has up to April 2021 to call for the next GE. In preparation for the GE, political parties have started to ramp up their public outreach by doing more walkabouts and social media engagements since last year.

In Singapore, there are no mainstream media that organizes broadcasted debates where candidates can feature themselves prior to the elections. Traditionally, only two telecasted debates will be held during the span of nine days of campaigning. 

In fact, the PAP leaders seem to have a dominant voice in the government-controlled mainstream media (MSM). The party further strengthens its electoral majority through its People’s Association that has an extensive network of more than 1,800 grassroots organisations (GROs) which provide the party easy access to the public.

While the MSM still covers stories from the opposition parties, its stories tend to focus on the negative side rather than positive aspects of its activities most of the time.

Such as the recent budget forum by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), MSM made no utter about the forum and the points covered by the party’s politicians which had constructive comments on the Budget 2020 that was recently announced last month.

Since the PAP possess the upper hand in the media landscape, the opposition political parties divert to social media to leverage against the unfair media landscape and reach out to the voters.

According to the Best In Singapore’s report, the nation has one of the highest internet penetration rates globally due to its enhanced digital infrastructure. There are about 4.92 million internet users in the country which is 84 per cent of the country’s population.

This is where social media came into place and changed the landscape of campaigning in Singapore, redefining the way elections are contested and how citizens engage in politics. It became an avenue for Singaporeans to speak their opinions directly to those in power, while opposition political parties are given a platform to disseminate information directly to the public.

Of those various social media sites, Facebook is the go-to online platform for opposition parties to update the people about their activities and develop more public engagements. Facebook enables them to gather real-time feedback, inexpensively weigh public opinion and even engage with young voters.

In the last seven days, the Workers’ Party (WP) has posted two parliament videos; the first video featured WP’s leader Pritam Singh who touched on the GST rate in the country, while in the second video member of WP Sylvia Lim calls on the Government to further strengthen the legal system. Each of the videos has garnered over 17k total views.

WP also has an additional Facebook page The Worker’s Party Youth Wing (WPYW) operated by its youth wing, and targets young Singaporeans and has about 15k followers. On 5 March, the former non-constituency member of parliament Gerald Giam hosted a live chat on Facebook to discuss the nation’s budget 2020 with its audience. The video has garnered up to 14k views.

https://web.facebook.com/wpyouth/videos/597601214430281/

Other than WP, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and Singapore People’s Party (SPP) have been especially active in conducting physical outreach to the public recently amid the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

PSP posted on 1 March that 60 PSP members went to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFH), National University Hospital (NUH), Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to distribute gift bags to frontline healthcare workers who have worked the overnight shift.

PSP also makes use of Instagram and has a total of 972 followers so far on the platform. The party also uploaded a video on Instagram IGTV on 3 February which featured its leader Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

Meanwhile, SPP visited stalls and residents at Bishan St 24 on 1 March to distribute alcohol-based sanitizers and advise residents to practice recommended precautions to reduce the risk of getting infected with the COVID-19 virus.

As for SDP, it made more appearances via Facebook livestream and has been actively uploading videos on its YouTube channel. SDP has a total of 58.9k followers on Facebook page and 5.34k subscribers on YouTube.

SDP’s chairman Paul Tambyah, with another three panelists, were live on Facebook on 4 March where they voiced their views on the nation’s budget 2020 and opened the panel to a public conversation during the livestream. The video was viewed more than 19k in total so far.

https://web.facebook.com/yoursdp/videos/3560677680614866/

The Reform Party also conducted a livestream chat on Facebook on 24 February whereby the party’s leader Kenneth Jeyaretnam shared his views on the Budget 2020 and had a question and answer (Q&A) session with the viewers. The video has, however, garnered only about 800 views.

https://web.facebook.com/kenneth.jeyaretnam/videos/10158728294862241/

People’s Power Party (PPP), on the other hand, often shared its chief Goh Meng Seng’s posts on his point of view about a certain topic. On 4 March, Mr Goh wrote about the four things that can calm the people down over the threat of COVID-19 virus. The four things include effective treatment for the infected patients, a vaccine to kill the virus, more in-depth information about the virus as well as information about its impact on the infected patient.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) was seen active last year as they conducted more groundwork to visit residents. On 17 October 2019, NSP posted about its house visits at Tampines Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and wrote that every visit leaves them questioning the public opinion surveys conducted by the PAP government.

“What we have gathered from the residents are usually opposite of what our mainstream media reported. Strange!” NSP wrote.

However, the last post by NSP was made on its walkabout was a post on 9 December 2019 which it shared about its visit to Tampines residents at Tampines St 44.

Meanwhile, People’s Voice Party (PVP) has merged its Facebook page with its founding chief Lim Tean’s page. Mr Lim has previously told TOC that the party has made a deliberate decision to merge the party’s page with his fanpage, adding that the party’s Facebook page will be changed soon. 

PVP has been leveraging Facebook as a medium to voice out its point of views directly to the public as well as to the government. Recently on 9 March, PVP posted on Facebook and criticized the government for allowing crowded gatherings such as the Merdeka Generation event to be held and involved senior citizens, the most at-risk group to be infected with the COVID-19 virus. The post has gained about 406 likes, 93 shares and 127 comments.

It seems that the party has also been posting videos almost every week. PVP’s latest video was on 1 March, in which Mr Lim spoke about the party’s experience when distributing free surgical masks in Chua Chu Kang area amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

https://web.facebook.com/PeoplesVoiceSingapore/videos/840493683055820/

Meanwhile, Singaporeans First party (SingFirst) was last seen active on Facebook on 8 April 2018 when the party’s leader Tan Jee Say congratulated Pritam Singh for being elected as the new Secretary-General of Workers’ Party. SingFirst has not updated its Facebook page since then.

As for PAP, the party is equally adept in mobilizing social media as it ranked the highest based on the overall political parties’ Facebook page likes. The party has also been active in posting on Facebook, however, most of its posts are articles from its official website.

One of its well-performing posts recently was on 2 March when PAP shared Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s video in which he spoke about the importance of using the national reserves responsibly. The video has been viewed 1.9k times so far.

Political parties in Singapore ranked by Facebook page likes

With 192k page likes, PAP has the highest number of followers on Facebook to date. The Workers’ Party comes in second with 108.3k page likes, and SDP ranked third in overall with 58.9k page likes.

Meanwhile, People’s Power Party ranked last in overall with only 2.5k page likes so far.

PVP’s interactions were the highest compared to the other political parties in Singapore, CrowdTangle Intelligence Report revealed

Ultimately, the value of social media as a tool in the political industry depends on the level of interactions the page achieves which can be measured based on the sum of likes, shares, comments, and reactions on Facebook to the content the person is checking.

Based on the data compiled from the CrowdTangle Intelligence Report, amidst the 10 political parties in Singapore, five political parties–PVP, WP, SDP, PAP, and PSP–stand out in terms of their total interactions on Facebook.

Although PAP overtakes in terms of Facebook page followers, PVP’s total interactions on Facebook were the highest for the past twelve months with 634,831 total interactions, followed by WP with 182,882 total interactions.

PVP recorded the highest engagement on Facebook which could be resulted from its consistency in posting articles every day and uploading videos almost every week. The party also recorded the highest total views on its owned videos with 3.64 million views within the past twelve months.  

In comparison to PVP, both WP and SDP have been leveraging the immediacy of Facebook livestream and video formats to engage with the online users. WP has a total of 1.69 million views on its videos, while SDP has nearly surpassed the million total views on its videos with 936,267 total views.

PAP and PSP, on the other hand, only post videos on Facebook occasionally and posted more articles and photos. Furthermore, PAP was more active in promoting content from its official website on Facebook.

Political parties with lower interactions on Facebook seem to rely on their party leaders’ Facebook page

While the rest of the political parties–SPP, PPP, The Reform Party, NSP, and SingFirst–may have lower interactions on Facebook, some of these parties may be relying on their party leaders’ Facebook page to further engage with the public.

SingFirst’s Facebook page has recorded no total interactions for the past twelve months, however, its party leader Tan Jee Say has been actively posting on Facebook which manages about 13k page likes and has recorded 4.5k total engagements in the past six months.

His most recent post was on 9 March, in which Mr Tan shared about a letter from an individual named Maurice Tay who pointed out the direct cause of the COVID-19 cases being reported from the private dinner function at Safra Jurong on 15 February and who should be responsible for the case. The post has garnered about 68 likes, 44 shares and 22 comments to date.

The Reform Party’s Facebook page also ranked as one of the lowest pages in its total interactions aspect, nevertheless, the party’s leader Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s Facebook page manages about 14.1k page likes and recorded 3.1k total interactions for the past six months.

Mr Jeyaretnam also has a blog, The Rice Bowl Singapore (TRS), a site for the party leader to express his opinions in words.

His latest post on Facebook was on 6 March whereby he shared content from his blog on Facebook with the caption, “Given the fear that POFMA has instilled, the PAP feel very free to put out their own fake news to convince Singaporeans to blindly trust them for another five years. It is time to call them out.” The post has garnered a total of 69 likes, 33 shares and 12 comments to date.

 

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