Don’t be hoodwinked: Social media will have limited impact on GE

Posted on 23 March 2011

Trust me, the only version of Windows the computer illiterate folk operate regularly is on hinges: Their kitchen window.

By Belmont Lay

WITH the General Election due, I have a pronouncement to make: My sincere belief is that social media will have a limited impact on the outcome of the voting results this time round.

Simply put, social media being influential is overrated.

And I’m terribly afraid I might be the only person who actually realises this.

You and I have heard about the oft-cited example about how powerful social media such as Facebook and Twitter are as tools to galvanise support from the constituents.

We are often reminded that Barack Obama used social networking to win his 2008 presidency because he connected with the younger voters and encouraged a larger turnout using a medium that translated online participation into offline action.

(You can read the latest example of this argument laid out by 16-year-old uber tech blogger, Xavier Lur, here.)

In Singapore, it is true that we see a lot of people compulsively molesting their iPhones in the spirit of navigating a Facebook page even when they are on the go.

And yes, you can discharge your democratic duty these days by dispensing dissenting views while moving your bowels, if you so happen to have access to 3G while on the throne.

Happily, of course, when you’re done, you can use Twitter to conveniently declare to your universe of 15 followers that a so-and-so minister as well as your toilet are so full of shit.

For social media users with some clout, any kind of declaration such as these can be influential. Indeed.

However, just by thinking a little deeper, I can name you just two counterarguments to ruin Xavier’s point about the powerful effects of social media that really has nothing to do with social media at all but more to do with context: 1) Voting in US is not compulsory 2) Singaporean voters don’t just have to deal with two choices.

In the US presidential elections in 2008, it is the whole country voting by choice for either the optimistic black man with a vision and no policy or a very old man who can barely comb his own hair.

That’s it.

In Singapore, matters are vastly differently.

For one, we are not in the business of electing presidents this GE. We are electing individual candidates.

I am thankful that non-users of social media are not subjected to the tyranny of this sort of free flowing rubbish that comes out from the Internet and so-called influential social media.

Hence, there are so many bloody constituencies cut up in so many ways.

There are as many candidates from the incumbent and opposition as there are brothels in Joo Chiat.

And there are more political parties than I have cousins.

True, Singapore might have 2.35 million Facebook users at last count. But that also just means that there are another 2.35 million, at least, who don’t use FB.

And when you think all that funky 2.35 million FB users form a critical mass, you realise one thing: 50% are apathetic (because that’s who they really are offline), 25% are simply pathetic and sexually frustrated, 20% are stalkers and the remaining 5% are wholeheartedly, politically-minded.

Plus, based on the fact that voting in the US is not compulsory, they have a self-selection bias. The Americans who care about the vote will show up. The Americans who don’t, won’t, and they can’t spoil the winning chances of those who turned up.

But in Singapore, when voting is made compulsory, shit happens.

Because Singaporeans can be paranoid, they will still vote for the incumbent just because there is a serial number on the voting slip and since voting is compulsory, it means someone somewhere is keeping count (according to the Singaporean logic), and hence, losing their jobs and their house and their dog is a real possibility for anyone who tried anything funny like put an “X” next to the non-PAP candidate’s name.

Therefore, people harnassing the power of social media will have their efforts thwarted just because anyone who can vote will show up and this causes votes to go all over the place, including being spoilt.

Oh wait. Did I mention that because the other 2.35 million non-users of FB cannot be influenced by FB, this election is as much about non-social media users as it is about social media users?

So here’s the point of today’s missive: When you remove the context from the argument, you are left with a narrative that resembles a myth.

And people who buy the myth subscribe to the lie and regurgitate the same kind of rubbish in all their naivety and foolhardiness.

They usually end up doing it over social media.

And I am thankful that non-users of social media are not subjected to the tyranny of this sort of free flowing rubbish that comes out from the Internet and so-called influential social media.

If you actually made it this far reading this, my suggestion is to turn off your computer and spend some time with your children, parents and real friends who are offline and find some real people (not avatars) to talk to by having a rational proper discussion about politics or why your vote is indeed secret.

But as always, feel free to share this over Facebook or retweeting it.

Thank you.

This post was written by:

- who has written 230 posts on New Nation.


Contact the author

  • Anonymous Coward

    Honestly, I lol’ed hard.

    Thanks for the evening laughs Belmont.

    • Belmont Lay

      Always a pleasure…

  • Haha Choo

    Don’t be hoodwinked, Belmont. Evgeny Morozov writes way better (and less cruder) than you.

    • Belmont Lay

      He’s had one too many vodkas and I didn’t. But I refuse to apologise for that.

  • Thumbs down

    “Simply put, social media being influential is overrated.

    And I’m terribly afraid I might be the only person who actually realises this.”

    What a peculiar delusion you’re labouring under, Belmont. If you were a bit better read, you might have come across a far more detailed and well written piece than yours by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell

    Of course, I’m in no way comparing you to Gladwell.

    I mean, this is just, as you would so elegantly put it, shit. How can anyone pontificate:

    “So here’s the point of today’s missive: When you remove the context from the argument, you are left with a narrative that resembles a myth.”

    And yet so sweepingly and ignorantly say:

    “Because Singaporeans can be paranoid, they will still vote for the incumbent just because there is a serial number on the voting slip and since voting is compulsory, it means someone somewhere is keeping count (according to the Singaporean logic), and hence, losing their jobs and their house and their dog is a real possibility for anyone who tried anything funny like put an “X” next to the non-PAP candidate’s name.”

    Have you ever come across a statement less poorly substantiated?! Or you’re saying this on the basis of a straw poll of your dozen cousins ah?!

    Dude, this piece is almost shittier than your wikipedia researched Mandela one.

    Unless you want to languish as some cocky faux controversial commentariat, I’d suggest you get your head screwed on right and generate something original.

    • Belmont Lay

      oooh o.O such an eye-opener…

    • Terence

      someone wise once told me, “”A literal mind will always run into trouble reading the ironic mind but the converse doesn’t hold true.”

      • Belmont Lay

        hey! sounds like something i would say!

    • http://newnation.sg Shihan

      eh, off topic lah. Let’s talk about the real issue of social media being a channel for change.
      Yes or no?

  • jax

    wow, the comments are all so atas.
    i have not read the 2 articles cited,
    but will comment nevertheless. dunno
    about facebook and twitter, but i dun
    think many r reading the blogs. when i
    talk to people, i find many also dun
    read the newspapers and are not
    aware of what’s going on! eg prez’s pay
    up by $900k. however, in the coffee
    shops, quite a lot of pple are having
    heavy duty discussions.

    meanwhile,
    the thinking for how to cast your vote
    shld not be like before. pple talk of voting
    for the better man. they should be
    voting for political security. security
    in the sense that you are not dependent
    on just one party and one line of thinking.
    spore needs to build up a pool of
    politicians, to develop politically.

    • http://newnation.sg Shihan

      Actually I’m wondering why the formatting for your comment is off. Did you do it on purpose?

      Great last paragraph. It’s true that voters vote for security above all else. This can get dangerous when there’s false sense of security. Or as we’ve seen with the new candidates, a seemingly false presence of diversity.

    • Belmont Lay

      Amen to what you said man…

      The only thing that is stopping me from full-on coffee shop talk with the folks is my half-past-six Hokkien…

  • terence

    hi jax, atas or not, we are glad to hear you out :) you are right to say many do not know what’s going on. just curious, who are the people you mentioned about? are they students? older folks?

  • Anonymous Coward

    Belmont,

    You should sit down and talk to me. Hokkien is awesome.

    • Belmont Lay

      I got this feeling I might know you offline, no?

      • Anonymous Coward

        No.

        • Belmont Lay

          ok…

  • Nelson Man De La

    Belmont,

    I am thankful that non-readers of New Nation are not subjected to the tyranny of this sort of free flowing rubbish that comes out from writers such as you.

    P.S. Were you sexually frustrated when you wrote all this?

    Love,
    Nelson

  • andrewong2024

    Hi Belmont,

    Though the percentage of ppl active on social media may be somewhat lacking in numbers, but it does not mean that it has little infuence.

    I think you might have overlooked that the group of active participants on social media could have a huge network offline where they can disseminate relevant information thru other channels such as word of mouth.

    • Belmont Lay

      Point taken.

      But based on what you said: “…the group of active participants on social media could have a huge network offline where they can disseminate relevant information thru other channels such as word of mouth”…

      This is where the basis of my apprenhension lies. (Which also explains my admonishment to talk to real people offline!)

      This “huge network” is not as big as many people make it out to be. And even if it is huge enough, there are many factors that will thwart its influence. One such factor is the fact that compulsory voting will throw up plenty of apathetic votes.

      Also, I assume you’ve heard about “weak ties” and “strong ties” before, right?

      Sadly, the domain of politics might not be able to rely on weak ties to be influential.

      Group discount shopping yes, but influence on voting patterns? Nope, sorry.

  • Thumbs down

    Hi Belmont,

    Your answer to my last, rather substantial post, was
    “oooh o.O such an eye-opener…”

    Do you lack the intellectual heft to robustly engage? One would have thought a potty mouth like you would be raring to have a go at a rigorous debate.

    Or are you going to lay down and puuuurr?

    My last comment, for your reference:

    “Simply put, social media being influential is overrated.

    And I’m terribly afraid I might be the only person who actually realises this.”

    What a peculiar delusion you’re labouring under, Belmont. If you were a bit better read, you might have come across a far more detailed and well written piece than yours by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell

    Of course, I’m in no way comparing you to Gladwell.

    I mean, this is just, as you would so elegantly put it, shit. How can anyone pontificate:

    “So here’s the point of today’s missive: When you remove the context from the argument, you are left with a narrative that resembles a myth.”

    And yet so sweepingly and ignorantly say:

    “Because Singaporeans can be paranoid, they will still vote for the incumbent just because there is a serial number on the voting slip and since voting is compulsory, it means someone somewhere is keeping count (according to the Singaporean logic), and hence, losing their jobs and their house and their dog is a real possibility for anyone who tried anything funny like put an “X” next to the non-PAP candidate’s name.”

    Have you ever come across a statement less poorly substantiated?! Or you’re saying this on the basis of a straw poll of your dozen cousins ah?!

    Dude, this piece is almost shittier than your wikipedia researched Mandela one.

    Unless you want to languish as some cocky faux controversial commentariat, I’d suggest you get your head screwed on right and generate something original.

    • Belmont Lay

      Is it just me, or did you just plagarise yourself?

      Your first post on “March 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm” is repeated in your next post on “March 25, 2011 at 11:50 am” without you even trying to paraphrase.

      But that’s beside the point.

      As far as I can tell, from both your posts, all you’re saying is: “Belmont, you should have read Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in New Yorker.”

      Maybe you’ve read it a lot, but as far as I can tell, well, I simply couldn’t. I didn’t even identify one sentence that you wrote that might hint that you understood Gladwell’s thesis.

      If you did, you would have succinctly paraphrase what Gladwell had to say in one or two sentences.

      But the fact is, you didn’t.

      My only retort, which I think I shouldn’t have even bothered to come up with to dignify your query but I will anyways, because I am so keen to pull the rug right from under your feet, is: Have you read Farhad Manjoo’s piece on Slate about anonymous trolling?

      http://www.slate.com/id/2287739/

      You know what Manjoo said? Let me paraphrase what he said for your benefit: He said anonymity makes trolls bold. Anonymity degrades the quality of comments online. Commenters should log on to third party sites like Facebook to make their identity known as it makes them post more smartly.

      Maybe you should take heed of this Slate article.

      It might actually make you smarter. Or at least look smarter. Because Manjoo was talking about you. You are a stupid troll.

  • Terence Lee

    dear thumbs down, I honestly don’t think you’re here for a “rigourous debate”.

    Andrew, interesting point you brought up. While I have no doubt online agents often disseminate information to offline agents, the actual efficacy is doubtful.

    First reason is generational difference, social media users are younger, non-social media users are older. Hence they don’t interact as much as we’d like them too, and even if they do, difference of opinion emerges.

    Also, just because I blab to everyone about the merits of the opposition does not mean my message will be heeded. Like just the other day I was engaged with my family members about the merits of having more opposition members in parliament. The conclusion was that they are still quite supportive of the PAP.

    So no doubt, social media is useful for disseminating information, but whether it translate to behavioural change is unknown.

    • andrewong2024

      “Also, just because I blab to everyone about the merits of the opposition does not mean my message will be heeded. Like just the other day I was engaged with my family members about the merits of having more opposition members in parliament. The conclusion was that they are still quite supportive of the PAP.”

      You underestimate the influence of leaders of racial/religious communities has to translate behavioural change. I’m sure there are more than sufficient examples or historical facts to support this.

  • terence

    Andrew,

    you are right, i think community leaders have a powerful influence on their flock. Of course, the topic is GE here, so we have to talk about the influence of social media on voting behaviour. It does seem that social media has an echo chamber effect, where like-minded voices tend to congregate together. So what social media could do is to entrench existing views, rather than cause a change in views. But even a change in views may not be a change in behaviour. I’m not saying social media is totally ineffective whatsover, but it must work in concert with other social forces to enact change.

    • http://newnation.sg Shihan

      Just to elaborate further, the ease of communication via the social media and the internet is great for fostering subcultures. However these communities eventually become isolated from one another as participants merely pick and choose content which they’ve subscribed to.
      It reinforces biasness and gives a false sense of empowerment. While that’s really awesome for say teenage mums to get social support, it backfires during and before the elections because people get confused with what ‘ground sentiments’ actually are.

      People on the ground are not engaged online or the social media like you and I. They’re hard at work everyday making ends meet in this increasingly expensive country.

  • Nar Scissors

    The fact that you refuse to engage others with humility shows that you don’t truly care about the issues you speak of, nor are you willing to examine yourself and your work so you can improve on your craft. It would seem that you’re writing just to get published for ego’s sake.

    People are so brusque with you not because they necessarily have the intention of trolling, but as a result of your track record of putting forth a poor attitude. You never respond decently to criticism. You’re not learning, be it in terms of writing, ideas, arguments or decorum.

    Also, you can’t plagIarise yourself. I know you were just trying to be a smartarse by saying what you did, but it made you look really daft. Mouthing off with pseudo-wisecracks is not becoming of a person or writer who wishes to be taken seriously.

    A good deal of the comments you receive, as was pointed out, don’t have all that much to do with the topic – possibly because it’s a personality-centric piece of writing, with actually not a lot of proper focus on the issues.

    Learn to carry yourself and write with maturity, not like a kid who’s insecure and full of juvenile pride.

    • Belmont

      Psst… *whispers* there is such a thing as plagiarising yourself…

      Look, I’m only mean to trolls.

      When Terence and I have a conversation OFFLINE, I pat him to sleep sometimes. That’s how good I can be, alright?

      Ok, let me speak a language you understand: Argh! Roar! Billy goat! Mel Gibson!

  • Nelson Man De La

    I agree with Nar Scissors.

    Belmont, you need to cool your ego boy. Stop being a wisecrack. And learn how to write properly, New York Times style.

    Love,
    Nelson

    • terence

      this banter is entertaining.

      • http://newnation.sg Shihan

        Reinforces Belmont’s point about the internet being a weak force for change.

        • Belmont

          Ok wait. Let me grunt in a language a troll understands: “Roar! Roar! Argh! Mel Gibson!”

          So has any of the trolls read Farhad Manjoo’s piece on Slate about anonymous trolling? (http://www.slate.com/id/2287739/)

          Nelson Man De La? Nar Scissors? Thumbs Down?

          They all sound like the same person to me. I mean, same troll to me.

          Argh! Roar! Go get your billy goat!

          • Nelson Man De La

            Belmont,

            Maybe you should check IPs. That’ll give you your answer.

            Love,
            Nelson

    • Belmont

      So, mmmm, how do I put this?? If you want to read New York Times, you can always go read New York Times?

      Duh?!

      New Nation is… mmmm… how do I put this… Rolling Stone meets Jeremy Clarkson?

      Oh wait. You’re a troll. Let me paraphrase: Argh! Roar! Mel Gibson!

      • Nelson Man De La

        Belmont,

        Please do not compare yourself with Rolling Stones and Jeremy Clarkson. New Nation is…mmm… The Sun (UK) meeting Glenn Beck. To the three editors here, New Nation is something worth ignoring.

        “Argh! Roar! Mel Gibson!” – Belmont, is that your lame pick up line?

        Love,
        Nelson

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  • Nar Scissors

    In that case, how would you define plagiarism and by extension, plagiarising oneself? I’m not sure you can steal your own ideas without your own permission.

    http://www.google.com.sg/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=fMl&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&defl=en&q=define:plagiarism&sa=X&ei=abKNTcXdLpDWvQO8qrimDQ&ved=0CBkQkAE

    http://www.plagiarism.org/plag_article_what_is_plagiarism.html

    http://www.yourdictionary.com/dictionary-articles/Definition-of-Plagiarism.html

    Honestly with no sarcasm intended, I would like to know what your interpretation of plagiarism is.

    • Nelson Man De La

      Nar Scissors,

      Don’t think Belmont is educated on what constitutes plagiarism. He may need re-schooling just to make sure he doesn’t make such horrendous claims in future.

      And oh, it just so happens that the trolls here (especially NAR scissors) seem to be smarter than the editors of NN. Amazing.

      Love,
      Nelson

  • Sita Saniva

    Very smart article, Belmont. I have helped out with some of the opposition parties, and when we talk to the man in the street, many of them still do not rely on social media for their political fix (if they are even interested in politics at all). Facebook or Twitter is not necessarily the way to reach them, especially for the older crowd which also makes up a significant percentage of votes.

    Simply put, a bustling social media fanpage does not a strong campaign make.

    This upcoming GE is going to be an interesting and lively one, but as to whether the cards will ultimately tip significantly in favour of the opposition remains to be seen.

    • Belmont

      Amen…

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  • Lucy

    Nar Scissors and Nelson Man De La have nothing worth saying here except to attack the author. The truth of the matter is that the majority of the masses are NOT on Facebook nor on Twitter. Internet adoption has increased tremendously over the last 10 years but we still have masses of people here that do not rely on Facebook and Twitter for the majority of activities in their lives.

    Truth be told, I work in Social Media marketing and although I believe in the power of social media, the reality is that it’s impact on the upcoming GE may not be as influential as we would like it to be or hope it to be. Nothing beats a hardworking politician who goes on an extended campaign trail and really gets to know the community and builds a solid reputation on the ground (i.e. offline and in person).

    So I think this article is a reminder for us to engage our community in person rather than get caught up in the hype and being fooled into thinking that a lot of buzz here is going to translate to votes in reality. A couple of years ago, there was a movie “Snakes on a Plane” starring Samuel L Jackson which generated such incredible buzz and viral videos on the internet that everybody predicted success at the box office. Well, it flopped at the box office. Utterly failed. Didn’t sell as many tickets as expected (given the buzz and viral impact on the internet).

    So, there are limitations to social media and most people don’t realize this. Obama didn’t succeed because of Social Media alone. There were many many factors that were already working in his favor before any social media was applied. Social media only enhances what is already present. It’s like sauce. If you don’t have anything else, then all you’ve got is sauce on a plate.

    Anyway, I thought the author had a valid observation. I don’t know why there are a few ignorant folks thrashing him when they don’t seem to have a valid viewpoint except to attack the viewpoint of the author. Seriously folks, social media, in the grand scheme of things, will not decide this election. It’s the people on the ground who spend more time relating to the majority of the masses who don’t live their lives in the social media universe.