Gov’t must improve online engagement: PM Lee

Faris Mokhtar

In his speech, PM Lee said the Government needs to be active and adept in communicating with Singaporeans online. (Screengrab from Facebook)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has emphasized the need for the Government to engage the online community more even as digital media continues to play an increasingly important role in society.

Speaking at the National Day Rally on Sunday from the National University Cultural Centre, he said while the Government has been able to engage Singaporeans through mediums such as face-to-face meetings, it also needs to learn to operate better within the digital space.

In his first rally address since the May elections, PM Lee said, "I think in person face to face, on TV, we know how to do it. Engagement online, we need to learn to do it better. It's not easy to do but it's important because the digital media is continuing to grow in importance."

Dressed in a blue long-sleeved shirt, he noted that while more citizens are making their voices heard on various digital platforms and social media, it was also easier for "negative views and ridiculous untruths" to spread and the government must do its best to "counter this and prevent it from leading people astray".

"And we have to be able to operate in that space. It's not easy because it's anonymous, it's chaotic, it's unfiltered, unmoderated. So the medium lends itself to many negative views and ridiculous untruths… And we have to do our best to counter this."

Although some of the Ministers have leveraged on internet platforms such blogging and engaging through Facebook, PM Lee said they still have to improve in communicating through this medium.

In addition, the Government too must also play its part to be adept in communicating with those online.

"But it's not just the Ministers doing these, the Government as a whole has to be more active and adept, engaging Singaporeans online. We can't be in every corner on cyberspace because there's a lot of cowboy towns out there."

Still, he said that there are platforms which are recognised as reliable, able to provide an open debate, and where "different views are expressed but is balanced".

Most importantly, PM Lee said the government needs to leverage on cyberspace and "use it constructively to explain issues, to shape opinions, to rally support and to make Singapore work better".

Meanwhile, political observers noted that the emphasis on online engagement was a reaction to the General Election result and the Government has much to learn in order to take full advantage of the medium.

"Mr Lee was signalling that times have changed. And that he and his team are entering a new phase of engagement with the people.
"The fault line in this engagement is a Government that has been protected by a passive public but the general election changed all that," said media consultant PN Balji.

On the other hand, associate professor Bridget Welsh who teaches political science at the Singapore Management University (SMU,) noted that the Government needs to truly engage the online community without admonishing them.

She pointed out that in PM Lee's speech, he had criticized the online medium for spreading "ridiculous untruths".

"The PAP needs to genuinely engage and listen without admonishment and criticism. Unless it is able to genuinely get out of its elitist throne of "government knows best" it will not be able to use mediums that involve interaction," she said.

Balji added that not only the Government has much to learn, but it also needs to change the way it communicates with the online community.

"Being an active participant in the online world needs a paradigm shift in not just political or public service ideology but also in the culture of issuing motherhood answers to pointed questions.

"A government not used to or trained for this new world will find the going tough for sure," he said.