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Academic studies on social media use during Singapore’s General Elections

Here is a compilation of select academic studies on the use and impact of social media on Singapore’s General Elections, especially around political awareness of opposition parties and access to information in lieu of media control by the incumbent government. Organized in reverse chronological order.


Abdullah, Walid Jumblatt. 2020. ““New normal” no more: democratic backsliding in Singapore after 2015.” Democratization (Online first)

“Social media became an important site of contestation, as is the case in many countries with state-influenced media, and became the platform via which views critical of the government were freely espoused. More voices challenging the PAP appeared in online spaces, both formally… and in the personal capacity of ordinary Singaporeans, as more citizens felt emboldened to write critical commentaries of the government on their personal Facebook pages. These factors caused much hope for optimism on the trajectory of Singapore’s democratization prospects.”

“To be sure, it is not the intention of this article to assess whether passing the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act into law was justified; indeed, many cogent arguments were put forth by the government in explicating the need for the Act. The point here is to indicate that such laws could inadvertently contract the political space as activists may self-censor themselves, since they may make the assessment that it is highly subjective if their criticisms of certain judicial matters could be classified as “fair”.”

“Another legislation which generated much discussion is the Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) bill, which was passed in May 2019. The move further endows the executive branch of government with the ability to censure its critics, if they are deemed to have purposely spread online falsehoods. In sum, the new piece of legislation will provide the government with even more ammunition that it already has, to go after its critics. In spite of opposition to the bill by academics, members of civil society and journalists, the legislation was still passed. Since then, the law has also been invoked a few times, mostly on opposition members and critics of the state.”

Zhang, Weiyu. 2016. “Social media and elections in Singapore: Comparing 2011 and 2015.” Chinese Journal of Communication 9(4): 367-384.

“…social media are used by the opposition parties because they are the only alternative to use in disseminating information and fostering dialogue. However, the ruling authorities use the same social media to counter the opposition.”

“Social media may derive strength from acting as an alternative information source in a media-controlled society (Gomez, 2008). Grassroots publishing is often sufficient for opposition parties, many of which upload videos of their speeches and campaign activities on their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels. In addition, opposition party members are often willing to break news stories online in order to counter potentially unfavorable coverage by the mainstream media.”

“…during the 2015 election, when mainstream mass media caught up with social media by strengthening their online portals and attempting to provide balanced reporting of election campaigns. Members of the ruling party also became highly active on the Internet, continuously providing citizens with status updates, constantly interacting with their supporters to mobilize them, and swiftly responding to critiques on their social media channels… The young, who had voted for the first time in 2011, had become used to the novelty effect of social media, especially online-only alternative media, and thus demonstrated less support for the opposition in 2015.”

Singh, Bilveer. 2016. “Singapore’s 2015 General Election: Explaining PAP’s Resounding Win.” The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 105(2): 129-140.

“…the discourses in the social media about the desirability of a strong opposition to punish the ruling party for its failures, and betting by bookies, that created a perception that there was a chance that the WP might perform exceptionally well… As the public was not prepared for this big swing that would have cause a serious dent to the ruling PAP government’s power with which the public was rather comfortable, most voters became conservative in their voting… It would appear that Singaporean voters developed a ‘cold feet syndrome’, fearing that the PAP might lose badly, and decided to support it, reversing earlier political behaviour of giving more support to the opposition so that an effective system of checks and balance would develop in the political system.”

Skoric, Marko M., and Qinfeng Zhu. 2016. “Social media and offline political participation: Uncovering the paths from digital to physical.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 28(3): 415-427.

“…we test the relationships between different types of online media use—SNS, microblogs, blogs, and online forums—and political participation in the context of 2011 Singapore General Elections. We find that reading independent blogs and getting news about the elections on Facebook were associated with a greater likelihood of attending resident dialogues, volunteering for a political party, and participating in elections rallies, while discussing politics on online forums was positively linked with resident dialogue attendance and party volunteering only.”

“…expressive uses of egocentric social media, including writing and commenting on blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, were not predictive of offline political participation during the elections… research indicates that political expression that is primarily motivated by intrinsic factors such as venting and organizing one’s thoughts is not linked with offline participation… expression on egocentric media is often personalized and identity focused and plays a more vital role in alternative, noninstitutional forms of citizen participation…”

Soon, Carol, and Siti Nadzirah Samsudin. 2016. “General Election 2015 in Singapore: What Social Media Did and Did not Do.” The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 105(2): 171-184.

“…during election time, official sources of information were seen as more credible than all social media. Blogs or YouTube sites and online discussion forums and portals were seen as the least credible as information sources. The low trust of these social media could be attributed to the fact that on these interest or topic-based platforms (as defined by Skoric and Zhu, 2015), people typically communicate with unfamiliar others or strangers. An interesting finding was that although social networking sites and instant messaging were used more as sources of information than radio and parties’ online platforms, they were less trustworthy, thus indicating that usage did not necessarily lead to trust. Our findings suggest that social media users perhaps practised healthy scepticism and literacy skills when searching for information during election time, and that they were cognisant of the trustworthiness of different sources.”

“The high adoption of various social media and the online chatter leading up to GE2015 led to high expectations of social media influencing election outcome. However, social media does not exist in isolation, but is part of the larger media ecology. In the case of GE2015, mainstream media were strong and credible competitors. Furthermore, what people do online matters, not just the number of users. Besides political interest, political will is important too. What our study also found was that when it came to deciding whom to vote for, people were influenced by the quality of the political party and candidates in their constituencies and recent policy tweaks related to transportation, housing costs and presence of immigrant workers—areas in which the ruling party made significant progress between the 2011 and 2015 elections. Social media are but a tool and the electorate has to be driven by grievances to use technology to call for action and galvanise others.”

Tan, Tarn How, Arun Mahizhnan, and Ang Peng Hwa. (eds). 2016. Battle for Hearts and Minds: New Media and Elections in Singapore. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing. ISBN 978-981-4713-61-0.

“‘Rashomon Effect’ is what comes to mind when we look back to the comments on and interpretations of the 2011 Singapore General Election (GE2011). As in the 1950 movie Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa, where different eyewitnesses to an event offer very different testimonies to what happened, the results of GE2011 led to a number of commentaries that, while based on the same events, differed in their summations… This book is an attempt to mitigate the Rashomon Effect and make sense of conflicting testimonies on the battle for the hearts and minds of the Singapore electorate during GE2011. It focuses primarily on the effect of Internet-related electoral activities to influence or win over the voting public. It attempts to explain to the different uses of the new media by different players in the media sphere and analyse their impact on electoral behaviour.”

Tan, Netina. 2014. “The 2011 general and presidential elections in Singapore.” Electoral Studies 35: 374-378.

“The increased quantity and quality of information access encouraged opposition coordination and positively spiked turnout at the opposition rallies. Over nine days of boisterous campaigning, Singaporeans packed the opposition rallies by the thousands and heckled PAP candidates during the walkabouts. Local and overseas voters followed the campaign trails with live tweets, micro-blogs and vodcasts. Through the use of social media, the rallies of the smaller, poorer opposition party also saw good turnouts. For fear of losing readership, even the typically docile mainstream media featured stories on the opposition leaders and their party platforms.”

“The younger internet-savvy generation is now less attached to the PAP and more willing to bet on the opposition. Despite the country’s economic prosperity, Singaporeans want a more inclusive, pluralistic and politically competitive country. Problems of social inequality, healthcare and living costs are key issues for the growing aging population. Unlike the past, ethnic minority Malay voters are no longer the PAP’s safe vote bank (Hussain, 2011). But, despite the shift in mass sentiment and decline in the PAP’s popular support, it remains the strongest party because of its incumbency advantage, access to state resources and a wide network of para-political organizations.”

Sreekumar, T.T., and Shobha Vadrevu. 2013. “Subpolitics and democracy: The role of new media in the 2011 General Elections in Singapore.” Science, Technology and Society 18(2): 231-249.

“Our study shows that the political twitterati in Singapore has systematically taken on this carefully articulated discourse of efficiency and success. The popular Twitter handles have constructed counter images through tweets that are infused with wit, sarcasm, parody and satire, that are generative of a powerful mode of subpolitics. This new political engagement links up organically neither with opposition parties nor any particular political strata within the civil society in Singapore.”

“Tweets generated immediately prior to the General Election in May 2011, along with posts on Facebook in the same time period, were cited widely as major reasons for the opposition winning an unprecedented six seats in Parliament. Subsequent commentaries in the state-mediated press had also given a high level of coverage to the role of social media and the Prime Minister acknowledged the prominence of this role in his speech to the nation on National Day. Nevertheless, this unprecedented increase in political participation through social media did not lead to any radical changes in the political system in Singapore. The PAP retained their majoritarian dominance and all the contentious policies which had been hotly debated at opposition rallies prior to the Elections remained in place after the event, although with promises that they would be looked into, bearing in mind the pragmatic need for survival in a competitive economy. There was no collective action that arose out of the discourse of political engagement on social media and other online sites.”

Chong, Terence. 2012. “A return to normal politics: Singapore General Elections 2011.” Southeast Asian Affairs 2012: 283-298.

“Youtube and Razor TV effectively eradicated the physical discomforts of attending live rallies, and offered personalities on demand with each click of the mouse. Staring into the camera, candidates morphed from distant (both literally and figuratively) figures in the crowd into real Singaporeans with a direct line to other Singaporeans. Not only did the snowball effect of social media turn friends, relatives, and colleagues into a ready audience, but it also allowed opinions and biases to enjoy an echo-chamber effect, thus doing what the mainstream media could not (or would not) do — personalize the Opposition.”

“If so, then conversely, the ruling party quickly found that social media could also depersonalize candidates. New PAP candidates like Tin Pei Ling and Janil Puthucheary, for different reasons, were turned into embodiments of public dissatisfaction with the ruling party.9 These personalities ceased to be individuals as they underwent countless instances of satire and censure in cyberspace and, consequently, came to signify a host of criticisms of the PAP such as elitism and arrogance. Again, the PAP’s limited ability to counter these perceptions in cyberspace only served to reinforce the view that it was ill-prepared for social media.”

Lee, Terence, and Cornelius Kan. 2009. “Blogospheric pressures in Singapore: Internet discourses and the 2006 general election.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 23(6): 871-886.

“Indeed, virtually all offline rules aimed at managing social and political dissent in Singapore have been gradually extended to include the Internet and other communication technologies from 1994 (when public Internet was made available) – and continues to be ‘updated’ to cater to (read: control) the current era of social networking and the blogosphere.”

“During GE 2006, blogs began to generate a positive buzz as a result of the ban on online electioneering and as a sizeable population of Singaporean netizens flouted the warning by engaging in political blogging, although many did so cautiously and many more simply participated by posting their thoughts on someone else’s original posting. This was seen most conspicuously on the blog of social-activist Alex Au (2006) who defiantly uploaded his own reports and photos of election campaigning. His news-breaking pictures – which depicted innumerable masses of Singaporeans participating in opposition election rallies – caught the pro-government mainstream media flatfooted and forced them to publish reports on opposition activities in their media outlets. The amount of online activity in the election invoked many observers to call this, with tongue-in-cheek – Singapore’s first ‘internet election’ (Gomez 2006, 2).”

“Later that year (in 2006), The Straits Times launched its much-vaunted web platform for ‘citizen journalism’, STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print), which included a motley crew of celebrity bloggers who engage in social commentary… The PAP government itself succumbed and ventured into the (hitherto condemned) virtual world with its members – most notably, Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo – entering the public foray of the blogosphere. Opposition members and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) took their cue and increased the intensity and audacity of their blog posts – constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptable political discourse in Singapore.”

“The election witnessed the largest online participation by the usually politically apathetic Singaporean public since the previous election in 2001 as a result of the exponential growth of blogs, social networking sites and Internet forums. What was significant about the rather indiscreet announcement – besides the use of the frightening telling word ‘insurgency’ directed at bloggers to imply the illegitimate and radical nature of online political discourse – was the remark made by MP Baey Yam Keng in defence of his party’s decision to go undercover… Members of the PAP counter-movement were reported to be actively and anonymously rebutting anti-establishment opinions online. This is a marked shift in the PAP government’s modus operandi which is typically to adopt a morally higher ground and an open approach to rebutting criticism rather than resorting to such clandestine means.”


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