The 2011 Singapore General Election was a water-shed event in Singapore’s political history, not because for the first time ever, an opposition party managed to secure a Group Representative Constituency (GRC), nor was it because the PAP’s popular vote had fallen by about 6% point from the previous election in 2006. Rather, it was a result of Singapore’s political landscape being dramatically altered with the advent of the Internet and social media.
Although a recent study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) concluded that the internet did not have a decisive effect on the 2011 General Election, there was no doubt a surge in the utilisation of new media platforms by political parties to reach out and connect with the electorates before and during the campaign period.
The take-away message from the last General Election is that these online spaces, whether they are social-media tools, online news sources or blogs, are inevitably now part of the standard tool kit for people engaged with politics. As more Singaporeans gravitate towards the social web in their daily lives, the social media will become an important space for them to share their views and interpret what is going on in the world around them.
The internet and social media, will be a tremendous tool for us to reach out to all Singaporeans. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also said that the government “can do better” in harnessing cyberspace to “explain issues, shape opinions and rally support”. At the last National Day Rally, PM Lee had mentioned that the government as a whole, needs to be more active and spry in engaging Singaporeans online. With this in mind, Singapore’s government agencies are also set to get more structured training in the use of social media. The use of social media will enable the Government, to reach out and to engage Singaporeans. The ultimate aim of this is to foster a greater sense of shared ownership.
Singapore is one of the most wired society in the world. The combination of high broadband penetration, heavy online engagement and the overall high digital literacy of Internet users have made Singapore one of the most advanced digital markets in the Asia-Pacific region. Technology website ZDNet reported that online research outfit Firefly Millward Brown ranked Singapore as the most evolved social media market in the world. There are currently more than two million active Facebook users among the country’s five million population.
Even as the traditional media still has an important role to play, the proliferation of social media is certainly challenging many norms, and its current and future impact is and will be profound on all aspects of life. In particular, social media is slowly supplanting traditional media as news and entertainment outlets. According to a news article in the BBC, independent think tank Demos observed that many young people did not know how to navigate the vast information available on the Internet. The social media is likened to a “Wild Wild West” on the internet with very limited regulation and control over its content. On one hand, there may be a huge amount of very trustworthy, academic, good bits of journalism on the internet; on the other hand, equal proportions of distortions, propaganda, lies, mistruths, half-truths and all sorts of rubbish can be found too.
As such it can be very difficult, especially for netizens, to sort the wheat from the chaff. While we have focused thus far on increasing the IQ and EQ of Singaporeans, let us remember that there is an urgent need to enhance the DQ or Digital Quotient of Singaporeans by educating Singaporeans, especially the young, proper digital judgement in discerning what is right and what is wrong. MOE should work with MICA on taking concrete steps to teach and inculcate our young children with sound digital literacy and judgement as part of their curriculum in schools.