Faced with declining citizen interest and participation in democratic politics and declining citizen’s trust in politicians and representative institutions (Gibson et al., 2008: 111-13), governments, political parties, social and political scientists in many countries have focused increasing attention on the potential of online communication to address these deficits and revitalise democracy. Born in the web 2.0 age, social media offers the users communication opportunities for socialization, social interactivity and uncensored speech, facilitating the growth of online political behaviour with recent emergence of new interactive and media-rich Web sites.
These Web sites, often referred to as social media, are valued in proportion to their capacity to harness the participation of online communities in the production, amalgamation, and exchange of information (O’Reilly, 2005) and also referred to as ‘new media’ (Flew, 2008; Lievrouw and Livingstone, 2005). In his research Correa (2010) broadened social media definition by adding instant messaging, a tool that enables social interaction. Researchers have also folded blogs into the social media umbrella given their function as ”personal publication tools” (Gil de Zu´nËœiga et al.
, 2009, p. 566) and their ability to foster interaction (Meraz, 2009). Online expression is functionally distinct from simply consuming content online (Katz et al., 2001; Shah et al., 2005; Wang, 2007). Hence online opinion expression and exchange have grown significantly in recent years. In particular, interactive Web 2.0 applications are increasingly being enlisted for citizen engagement in what is termed e-democracy (Kearns, 2002) or government 2.0 (Department of Finance and Deregulation, 2010), as well as in electioneering.
The Web 2.0 consists of social networks like Facebook launched in February 2004; it was developed for user information (status updates, links or pictures) to remain private; visible only to those who have been granted access by that user. This was labelled an ‘asymmetric’ modelling of human relationships (Porter 2009), however in November 2007 Facebook launched a new feature called ” Like Pages” which look and behave much like a user’s personal private profile and allows different networks and groups whose many users can join. These are used for discussions, events, etc. and are a way of enabling a number of people to come together online to share information and discuss specific subjects which is not limited, the members who have joined can view, recent news contents, wall contents, photos, posted items, videos and all associated comments on such items. These pages also offer access to insights and analytics of their fan base and therefore becoming at par with Twitter which is a micro-blogging platform launched in August 2006 where everyone can be an editor, a content creator, a producer and a distributor. Where it was argued that Twitter is a modelling of human relationships and sets it apart from other successful social networks (Porter 2009), and perhaps makes it a space more open to possibilities for political interaction therefore in social networks “all the classic old-media hats are being worn by everyone.” (Kirkpatrick, 2010:10). Another widely spread media YouTube was launched in May 2005 as a user generated content website where users could upload, share and view video/audio materials, their own productions or recordings on which the users have author or broadcasting rights. It is not a social network, but it is one of the most popular sources of user generated content among those who use social networks. One of the oldest forms of socialising the blog as defined by Drula as “unlike a website from the web 1.0 era, this online platform displays interactivity and socialization features” (DrulÄƒ, 2007:11-15) The growth and popularity of social media websites is distinctive as Facebook became the world’s largest social network, with 500 million active members as on July 2010 (Facebook, 2010a). In the same month, more than two billion videos a day were being viewed on YouTube (2010) and two billion ‘tweets’ a month were being distributed on Twitter (O’Dell, 2010).
Social Media and Politics
Use of the internet for political purposes has grown dramatically over the last decade. In the 2008 U.S. general election the internet, and social networking sites in particular, played a more significant role than they ever had before (Westling, M. 2007). In the realm of politics, social media went from being not known to budding platform for increasing political participation and communication in the 2008 US presidential elections. The 2008 presidential campaign was the first to play out in the world of YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and political blogging-the major Internet-based social media. These forms of social media provided a new platform for mediated communication which enables the audience to procure content on demand and also share and discuss/ argue with others (e.g., Levy, 2008; Papacharissi, 2009; Spigel, 2009). In the previous presidential elections candidates did own websites which were very useful for fund- raising and communicating with the supporters, though the 2008 US presidential elections showed that social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging have become increasingly popular forums for political participation (Quily, 2008; A. Smith, 2009; Vitak et al. 2009). The elections especially highlighted that Facebook had become a viable tool for engaging supporters and communicating with them directly in real time. For a matter of fact, during primary season until Election Day in 2008, Facebook users created more than 1,000 Facebook group pages that focused on Barack Obama and John McCain. Data from Pew Internet reveal that 65% of SNS users ages 18-29 engaged in at least one of five political activities on a SNS during the 2008 campaign, including joining a political group on the site and obtaining information about a candidate (Smith, 2009). The 2008 presidential elections came to be labelled as a Facebook election by some political observers. Barack Obama, in particular took grassroots campaigning in to the digital space by employing Online Social – Interactive Media (OSIM) like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Flickr, MySpace etc. and used it as a vital platform for his presidential campaign. He turned it into a major strength within his campaign where Facebook played a central role. It was clearly aware to The Obama campaign that voters, especially the young were the one who consumed information and at the same time were also conduits of information. They often chose social media over the traditional media. The online social interactive media allowed candidates to do electronically what previously had to be done by contacting volunteers, donors, scheduling and promoting events. (Johnson and Perlmutter 2009). The outcome of this was, that 2.2 million people had “friended Barack Obama on Facebook, in comparison to just over half a million for John McCain. There were over 500 unofficial pages and groups which were made for the democratic presidential candidate. One of the oldest Obama Facebook groups, “One Million Strong for Barack”, is going to meet a goal of one million supporters. Facebook was used extensively to reach potential donors and volunteers. The campaign raised a record- breaking $745 million (Tamara A Small , 2008). The campaign truly reaped the benefits form engaging people on social media especially Facebook. The entire campaign for Barack Obama benefitted enormously because of the massive amount of people using social media at that time and also the exposure being at a very low cost.
In the wake of the ‘turning point’ 2004 US presidential election, the Obama campaign
of 2008, the 2010 UK election and e-democracy movements globally, Australians went to the polls in 2010 in a media-hyped flurry of tweeting, YouTube videos, Facebook befriending and ‘liking’, blogging and other social media activities(CIT). In an content analysis by Jim Macnamara and Gail Kenning to identify trends in the volume of e-electioneering content and activity, as well as the main ways in which social media are being used in political communication. It was researched that 45% of the 92 federal politicians had a Twitter account. However, the style and purpose of ‘tweeting’ varied widely. Almost three-quarters of Australia’s federal politicians had a Facebook presence and 34 of them (16.5%) posted videos on YouTube and 29 (14.1%) had a blog. Though to the increase in social media in the 2010 elections in Australia the transmission of messages were one way rather than engaging in listening, dialogue, consultation and collaboration. There was little evidence that social media use was enhanced qualitatively to any significant extent in terms of the level of listening to citizens and the diversity of issues discussed. Gibson reported in relation to the UK election, ‘the internet has become an organisational necessity for election campaigning but â€¦ it has not brought about that strategic change some have argued we should expect’ (Gibson et al., 2010: 2).
The transmission of one way message was also witnessed in the 2010 Scotland general elections in Graeme Baxter, Rita Marcella and Evaggelos Varfis content analysis of the elections where Scottish political sphere did appear keen to be seen embracing new social media tools, with 35% of parties and 37% of candidates utilising blogs, Facebook and Twitter during the electoral campaign.
It is witnessed that online communication environment still requires time to reach the level of maturity found in the Internet political communication of other democracies (Paul Adrian) as in his study of the 2009 general elections in Romania. According to him Romanian politicians do not know how to deal with these platforms however worth mentioning that the case study was conducted during the first presidential election campaign in Romania when the social network Facebook and the Twitter micro blogging platform were used as distinct channels of communication.
In other instances use of social media in elections can result in a revolution and receive much celebratory rhetoric around the political uses and benefits of social media technologies in the aftermath of the June 2009 post-election protests in Iran (NIMA NAGHIBI). Social networking sites were seen as central to publicizing and circulating, for a global audience, the political crisis that unfolded in Iran that summer. During the height of the Iranian protests and the height of the western coverage of those protests, which dominated North American media from June 13th till June 25th, the mood online and in the media appeared to be exultant, rejoicing in the power of new social media to facilitate global solidarity in a heretofore unprecedented way.
Known as the state with the highest concentration of millionaires with 15.5% of total households with 1 million USD in wealth (Boston Consulting Group, 2011) and as the third one in the world according to the Gross Domestic Product ranking with over 56,000 USD per capita (Forbes, 2012), nowadays Singapore is definitely one of the most successful countries in South East Asia. Considering then that the isle has a population of only 5,000,000 people and that only 50 years have passed from the achievement of independence from Malaysia, all these figures seem even most impressive. But behind this brief but vibrant story of success there is probably one institution which, more than anything else, has been able to bring Singapore from being an English colony to become one of the most powerful financial hub of the world, and this institution is the People Action Party.
Formed in 1954, the PAP dealt with the separation of the country from the British Empire (1963) and from Malaysia (1965) and, from 1968 on, won all the eleven General Elections that, every four years, took place in Singapore. The main mission of the PAP has always been to build a fair and just society starting from four core elements: being honest (clean, above board and upright), being multiracial (all citizens are equal, regardless of race, language and religion), being meritocratic (all citizens have equal chances according to their individual contribution to the society) and being self-reliant (avoiding to create ‘dependence syndrome’). These four pillars determined and connoted PAP’s manifestations of reliability (‘We say what we will do’), pragmatism (flexible approach to generate novel solutions to the problems of the nation), unity (strong sense of loyalty and discipline), far-sightedness (long term horizon in leading the country), decisiveness (taking the right decisions even in absence of complete information), compassion (feel community worries and concerns), resilience (ability in persevering despite discomfort or possibility of failure) across the years. Generically speaking, People Action Party can be considered as a socialist democracy which moved away from the communist and anti-colonialist context in which it took the first step.
All this being said, even if on one hand side we can consider Singapore as an idyllic scenario where there is total harmony between citizens and political powers, on the other hand it must be remembered that this ‘big modern miracle’ has been possible thanks to a constant control performed by the State towards society. A good example of this can be resumed by the mass media that, operating under a strict legal framework and licensing policies, plays a “pro-development and hence pro-government” (Kuo, Holaday & Peck, 1993) role. Despite this, with the Government controlling the most influential media outlet of the country, the situation has been recently changing with the raise of the Internet and the arrival of new source of content and points of view for Singaporean people.
The web, though, is now reaching 77.2% of the total population with 3,658,400 users (Internet World Stats, 2012) and is now able to reshape the media landscape even thanks to the highest smart phone penetration rate of the world with 62% of the population owning one of the latest generation mobile (Google and Ipsos, 2012).
Anyway, if the Internet can be considered as an enemy by Singaporean government, the PAP was very reactive in using it as the main channel to speak to the citizens. The Party, in fact, decided to set up a Facebook Page aimed to catch the attention of 2,602,880 Singaporeans using the social network website. The most important occasion the PAP had to use its fan page were the 2011 General Elections, and especially the political campaign which took place between 19th April and 7th May. Due to its peculiar political environment, Singapore is an interesting stage to study the mechanism of the elections and that is confirmed by few researches inspired by 2001, 2006 and 2011 GE. The impact of the media on Singaporeans’ attitude and decisions towards voting has been analyzed in the paper “Where is the Opposition? Media coverage, political interest, public concerns and voting behaviour” . In 2006 Cenite, Chong, Han, Lim and Tan focused on one specific media, print, to go in depth in the topic of coverage during elections. But it is with “Singapore in 2011. A New Normal in Politics?” that Tan tries to understand the impact of social media on parliamentary and presidential elections. But rather than from a political point of view, this research tries to investigate the interaction between the PAP and its voters in a communicative perspective. That is why the focus of interest here is on pictures, videos, interviews, links to news websites like Channel Asia or Straits Times, in one word the tools used by the PAP to keep in touch with the 35,826 Facebook users who liked the page. With at least three daily posts during the eighteen days of political campaign the Party raised a constant buzz on the Internet, but how did these shared statements, these candidates’ profiles and these PAP’s promises for the future concretely influence voters’ behaviour?
The aim of this study is to understand how the People’s Action Party (PAP) uses Facebook, and how do people respond to the same.