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Vivian tops Facebook's Singapore politician list on polling day

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 05:50
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Dr Vivian Balakrishnan shakes the hand of a PAP supporter at the Jurong West Stadium during the results announcement of the GE 2015.

Singapore

VIVIAN Balakrishnan of the People's Action Party (PAP) has emerged as the "top performing" politician on Polling Day, coming ahead of even PAP secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, going by Facebook statistics released on Monday.

The list, based on the number of unique persons engaging - via a post, comment, share or like - in Facebook content related to the candidates on Sept 11, put PAP's Tin Pei Ling in fourth place, and independent candidate Han Hui Hui in fifth.

On Dr Balakrishnan's top spot, SMU associate professor of law Eugene Tan said: "It was probably due to the controversy created by his Facebook post, originally uploaded on Sept 4, which continued to be auto-posted on Sept 11 and created, not surprisingly, an uproar among online users on Cooling Off day."

Dr Tan told BT the belief that the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC - in which Dr Balakrishnan and his team were the incumbents - would see a very close fight between the PAP and SDP also generated Facebook traffic as voters read content related to both Dr Balakrishnan and Dr Chee.

Facebook has become a critical tool for politicians to connect directly with citizens to talk about issues that concern them most and to humanise their stories, a Facebook spokesman said. This year, politicians had more advanced tools and technology at their disposal - video, mobile, analytics - than they did in 2011, added the spokesman.

"We saw Singapore political parties use infographics, pictures of leaders campaigning, inspirational quotes from their leaders, and videos to engage the public on Facebook."

Members of the public also took to the social media platform to debate issues they felt strongly about. Up to 54,000 people used Facebook's new "megaphone" feature to share that they intended to vote in 2015GE with their friends, while 225,000 people - that's 6 per cent of the 3.5 million active Facebook users in Singapore - created 550,000 GE-related interactions on Facebook on Polling Day alone.

SMU's Dr Tan said: "I don't think social media was the game-changer of the 2015 GE. It played a bigger role than it did in 2011 but it still hasn't quite shaped how Singaporeans voted. Given the strong strain of anti-PAP voices on social media that dominated the pro-PAP ones, social media should have contributed to further erosion of support for the ruling party."

Had Facebook and the likes made a difference, the PAP would not have attained their electoral win last Friday, Dr Tan said. "This suggests that social media remains very much an echo chamber and Singaporean voters are relatively discerning in separating wheat from chaff as they navigate vitriol on social media."

Interestingly, younger male voters (aged 25-34) were not found to be among the most active Facebook users in terms of GE-related interactions. Women and men aged 35-44 were the most active, followed by women aged 25-34. The next two groups were women and men, in the 45-54 age bracket, respectively.

According to the study, the most talked-about GE topics on Facebook were education; CPF and retirement; cost of living; transport; and Lee Kuan Yew. AHPETC ranked ninth, while SMRT came in tenth.

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