In an attempt to garner support from young voters, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday evening logged on to social networking site Facebook to discuss issues pertaining to the General Election (GE) and the future of Singapore.
At 8 p.m. sharp, PM Lee kicked off his webchat with an informal self-introduction, including the use of Internet lingo. He posted on the People Action Party's (PAP's) official Facebook page: "Hi, I'm Lee Hsien Loong. Welcome to my webchat! This is my first time doing this. So please don't flame me, I'm a newbie :-) I see many of you are interested in how we can engage youths more. Shall we start with this?"
He then touched on controversial issues such as the cost of living, housing, transport and foreign talent. He also sought to hear fresh ideas on how to make Singapore a better place. In merely one hour, the online conversation drew over 5,000 comments, mostly from young concerned Singaporeans.
He ended his one-hour Facebook session by saying: "This has been a most wide-ranging, fast-moving webchat. Thank you! Didn't manage to answer everything. I hope you found it as interesting as I did. We need to build our future together. Please come forward. Singapore is yours. Build it, change it, improve it, cherish it."
According to PAP, the aim of the online event is to provide voters a platform where there is direct online interaction with the Prime Minister. This is the first time PM Lee is leveraging the new media by hosting an online chat to bring himself closer to the citizens, who spend a significant amount of time on the Internet.
Official data provided by Socialbakers.com reveal that Singapore has over 2.41 million Facebook users, and the 25-34 age group makes up the main demographic with a 32 percent share.
PM Lee is not the only politician tapping on social media to connect directly with young voters.
On Tuesday, George Yeo, Foreign Minister and PAP candidate for Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC), reached out to young Singaporean voters through a two-and-a-half minute video uploaded onto his Facebook page. He called for younger voters to allow him to be their "voice in government", and even admitted that many young Singaporeans "think that the government is arrogant and high-handed".
Even before the General Election 2011, he had been well-known for actively sharing snippets about his personal life and work as a Minister with his 27,000 fans on Facebook.
It appears that PAP has hired social media consultants to manage the party's online social campaigns and profiles. In a reply to a user in early April this year, PAP's official Twitter account posted: "We have mundane updates today because some 'Social Media experts' said our tonality was not appropriate yesterday."
On the other side of the coin, 24-year-old Nicole Seah from the National Solidarity Party (NSP) has emerged as one of Singapore's most popular politicians on Facebook. In just two weeks, her Facebook page reaped over 70,000 "likes" at this point of writing.
The Workers' Party has established a strong Facebook community, too, amassing over 30,000 "likes". As soon as the GE fever started a few weeks ago, the political party began using rich media such as photos and videos to boost user engagement. In addition, the party has taken advantage of the site's "event" feature by inviting its supporters to attend its rallies.
Local social media analytic site 157.sg has done an in-depth analysis on the social media landscape of the elections, and found that there was a significant rise of Facebook popularity of candidates in opposition parties in the past week.
However, the site noted that the total number of fans of both PAP and opposition parties' Facebook pages makes up only 11 percent of the total number of actual voters in Singapore.
This article is published by Yahoo! Southeast Asia Pte. Ltd., 60 Anson Road #13-01 Mapletree Anson, Singapore, 079914.