I took to Twitter to observe how young people were responding to the death of Singapore’s sixth and longest-serving president (two terms, 1999-2011). Here are the first one hundred sentiments I curated from young people on Twitter – gauged by their use of internet vernacular, their adoption of parlance popular among young people, and my brief views of their profile pictures and biographical information – collected between 2240hrs and 2320hrs, back-scrolled to the earliest possible Tweets on #RIPSRNathan.
Singapore’s National Day Parade took place yesterday on 9th August 2016. The annual Parade took place at Kallang Stadium and was broadcast live on local free-to-air channels. The main festivities took place between 1836hrs and 2021hrs. I tracked the official #NDP2016 hashtag on Twitter between 1800hrs and 2100hrs and report on the peaks and troughs of viewers’ reactions. Screengrabs taken on 9th August 2016, between 1800hrs and 2100hrs, GMT+8.
Imagine you are a corporate entity. Your officious websites are forced offline for almost 24 hours. The intranet is also down. There is no backup site or internal operating system to mobilize. You have no way of making announcement blasts or contacting your tens of thousands of panicky staff and students. Social media to the rescue?
But not everyone knows to turn to Facebook or Twitter for updates. After all, your corporate Facebook and Twitter boast around 70,000 and 9,000 followers respectively. And these aren’t official avenues on which important information is usually disseminated. What now?
It has been a whirlwind Sunday for staff and students at the University of Western Australia (UWA). A lightning storm on Saturday night caused a power outage to IT services across the campus, causing all webpages with a ‘.uwa.edu.au’ domain – especially webmail, Blackboard, and the Learning Capture System (LCS) – to go offline. The inconvenience was especially salient to the UWA community as this was the weekend before the mid-semester exam season. The opening screenshot is just a sampling of the student and staff queries and complaints that were streaming in on Facebook and Twitter.
I recently completed my PhD at UWA, but I have little knowledge of how the corporate communications of these individual digital estates are managed or if they are connected, although my guess is that all four are run by different managements. Here are some thoughts on how the outage incident was handled.
All screenshots were taken throughout the day on 10 April 2016, between 1000hrs and 2300hrs, GMT+8. You can read my earlier post on UWA and social media branding here.
The University of Western Australia Facebook page made announcements regarding the outage on a single Facebook post, editing it each time to give updates. With this as the pinned post, all updates would ideally be found in a single place as opposed to being scattered in different status/page updates that may not be ordered chronologically, depending on the audience’s engagement with individual posts.
However, apart from the last update at “7:45pm”, all other updates were not timestamped and confusing for the audience. Unless users clicked on the edit history of the post to view timestamps and verify the recency of the information, it was not clear how frequently the updates were being dished out or how relevant they were in a time-sensitive situation.
Over at the UWA Students Facebook page, the updates were less frequent but timestamped for clarity. While The University of Western Australia Facebook page seemed to focus on short and quick updates and little audience engagement, the UWA Students Facebook page prioritised personalised responses to staff and student queries in the Facebook comments section and on Twitter. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Surprisingly, the UWA Library Facebook page, which is presumably the main management arm that oversees IT support according to its website, did not provide direct or regular updates to its audience. Apart from its opening post announcing an IT disruption (see ‘Parlance’ below), its outage updates were three reposts from three different UWA entities: The University of Western Australia, UWA Students, and UWA Student Guild.
This gives the impression that the UWA Library Facebook page did not have firsthand information on the situation, nor were they kept abreast of updates. After all, their first two reposts were published 2 hours (from The University of Western Australia) and 6 hours (from UWA Students) later respectively – pretty outdated considering the time-sensitivity of the incident.
Similarly, updates from the UWA Student Guild Facebook page were few and far between.
It is not clear how these four different entities, their management, or their corporate communications are related or ordered into a hierarchy. Had all reposts on the various secondary pages come from a single primary source – say the UWA Library Facebook page as the arm that oversees IT services, or The University of Western Australia Facebook page as the primary institutional page, or the UWA Students page as the most engaging and responsive presence on social media all day – the audience would have been better able to discern which the authoritative source of updates was, and follow/track just one Facebook page for updates instead of going on a mini-tour of every single page each time we sought new information.
As mentioned earlier, tensions were probably extra high given that many students had planned for last minute weekend cramping before their mid-semester exams this week. While I appreciate the attempt at humour from the UWA Library Facebook page (long live Internet cats btw) and the UWA Students Twitter feed (emoticons as tension diffusers), I’m not sure advising panicky students to take a “lazy Sunday morning lie-in” or “relaxing Sunday picnic” helped to sooth any nerves. Knowing internet vernacular is one thing. Being able to discern when a situation is appropriate for it is another skill altogether.
Elsewhere, I thought the UWA Students Facebook page displayed excellent parlance savvy when providing personal responses to individual comments *and* playfully encouraging students to get back on track (also, emoji game strong).
But it wasn’t all fun and quirks. Some users appeared genuinely worried, and when addressing these folks, the UWA Students Facebook and Twitter pages seemed to have a keen awareness of appropriate tone and posture. In the first example (left), the UWA Students admin is responding to a member of staff (one of the few visible ‘staff’ examples I chanced upon) and attempting to exercise empathy. In the second example (right), the admin jumped in on a comment-conversation between two students, @mentions them, and offers encouragement.
I also appreciated that the admin was responding individually (with @mentions) to students who were offering updates on their end, and thanking them personally.
Speaking of students who were freely offering information and help, I’d really like to give a giant nod to my very helpful and generous former co-workers. Up till this year, I used to work with the UWA Libraries as a Casual Student Library Officer (CSLO), where I have immense affect for my co-workers and our regular patrons.
All of today, I saw my peers going out of their way to respond to student queries on Facebook in their personal capacity and in their own time. Having been a CSLO for four years, I can only imagine the level of hysteria those on shift must have dealt with all day, with angry hordes of students demanding solutions over which my peers have no control. On top of that, these good people were volunteering updates and help on Facebook in the absence of adequate corporate communications staff. I asked Holly, Matt, and Nic if I could not mosaic their names (as I’ve done with the other screenshots) and would like to honour them here.
Over at the Confessions at UWA Facebook page, you can always count on disgruntled students to find relief and comedy in the most dire of situations.
My personal favourite was this satirical comment from a student:
“Yeah UWA why didn’t you stop the lightning? #disappointed”
Singapore’s National Day Rally 2015, the equivalent of the State of the Union Address in the US, was held on 23 August 2015. It is usually broadcast in two consecutive sessions, one in which the Prime Minster makes a shorter address in Malay & Chinese languages (1845-1930hrs this year), and the other, a longer, more detailed address in English (2000-2200hrs this year). The broadcast can be streamed live on YouTube here.
I followed the official #ndrsg hashtag on Twitter (after a brief breakdown in transmission where the hashtag was pulling up zero results!) during the Malay & Chinese language address between 1845hrs and 1930hrs, tracking Tweet coverage from the two major English language mainstream news networks, The Straits Times (@STcom) and Channel News Asia (@ChannelNewsAsia).
Also, as in most backchannels, the #ndrsg stream usually brings up much vernacular gold. See, for instance, all the laughs from resident creator of viral humour, @SGAG_SG.
Background knowledge: Singapore comprises four major ethnic groups – Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian/Others. Some quick stats from the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) here.
Here are five tongue-in-cheek tl;drs of my personal reading of racial discourse, based on mainstream news Tweet coverage:
hey Malays, don’t worry okay, we’ll help you
2. hey Malays, we are a secular state but Islam is okay if we are a secular state
3. hey Malays, good job on progress (see also poster boys)
For coverage from alternative media, see The Online Citizen’s live Tweet stream here, and Mothership.sg’s extremely efficient summary (of the Malay & Chinese language segment) here, here, and here. See also, Tweets from top media Influencers in Singapore, @mrbrown and @miyagi.