Commentary

The realities of social media’s impact on GE2015

The realities of social media’s impact on GE2015
The crowd that turned up for People's Action Party's lunch time rally in the CBD in the 2015 General Elections. TODAY file photo
Published: 4:16 AM, November 19, 2015
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Two hours after polling closed, as sample vote counts were released to the public, it became evident that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) was the runaway winner in the 2015 General Election. While some wondered what went wrong and others asked what went right, for many, the reaction was: “What happened to social media?”

The expectations held by many concerning social media’s ability to mobilise political support were largely because of the online buzz that tilted towards opposition parties and personalities such as the Workers’ Party and Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Photographs and videos of people thronging opposition party rallies were also circulated widely on social media, encouraging the perception that the Opposition would garner more votes than in 2011. Instead, more voters chose the PAP this time and it improved its score from 2011 with a vote share of 69.9 per cent.

Leading up to Polling Day, I wrote a piece on how political parties were using social media. I had cautioned against assuming that signs of support online — such as accolades and high visitor traffic to a party’s Web and social media sites — would definitely translate to support at the ballot box. This is because online users tend to seek out and interact with other like-minded individuals.

My colleagues from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) had also written about the “normalisation” of cyberspace with the Internet now having pro-establishment voices coexisting with opposition supporters, as is the case in the real world.

After Polling Day, IPS conducted an online survey with 2,000 voters on their use of mainstream media and social media during the election period, their participation in election activities online and offline, and their voting behaviour.

The study did not aim to establish with utmost certainty the role that social media did or did not play in the election. But the findings helped explain why the expectations held by many of social media’s role in political mobilisation were not met.

USAGE, TRUST AND PARTICIPATION

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