Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Election Watch Part VIII - The Digital Warfare in Electoral Battle

The following article is contributed to the Singapore General Election Portal (SGEP). The articles refered to herein can be found in the SGEP.

The Digital Warfare in Electoral Battle

The Editorial , “The Electoral Battle Is Shaping Up” [Editorials (In Focus) – Archives]; highlighted an article in The Star Online, “PAP enters the digital warfare” [5 Mar 2011 – Malaysia Media].

While both the Incumbent and Opposition parties are adopting the new media to varying extent in their electoral battle, how is the external environment influencing this media to shape the electoral battle ground? To what extent will the final outcome be influenced by “digital warfare”?

The Singapore Social Media Training Blog [Government & Social Media; 7 Mar 2011] said:

“For the past few years, The Singapore Government has been trying to get on social media. However, they do not welcome feedback and censor comments”..... “if any nation, company or individuals is interested in Social Media, they need to be prepared to engage -- accept both positive and negative feedback, and willingly resolve the issues transparently”….. “With the coming elections, there are more ministers with blogs and Facebook pages, but the engagement is heavily moderated, and the types of posts do not seem genuine and engaging as well.”

It also quoted a deputy director of LTA to have said in a different context:

“The Singapore government, as a whole, is not averse to using new media. We’re not ruling out the opportunities it presents us. But we’re not completely sure how to use it yet.”

If this is so, will the new media be restricted only to the few MPs and Ministers who are familiar but are still afraid to engage or have heavily moderated their postings? The adverse publicity of the YPAP in some past events could be a deterrent.

If we judge the Blogosphere, it looks certain the PAP will continue to use the mainstream media (MSM) to anchor its campaign and leave the MSM to decide whether to adopt the new media. Hence, the outcome will be left more to conventional campaigning and rally.

Too much reliance on the MSM would tilt the playing ground if they were managed by the incumbent PAP Govt. The new media is now looked upon as the better tool and place for “freedom of expression”, as demonstrated by Netizens craving to flood the Blogosphere with a never-ending stream of opinions.

Although the new media is freer for expressing opinions, it becomes pertinent to interpret “opinions” to see the logics within.

The TODAY newspaper published a commentary captioned “Deep fissures behind Opposition bravado” [7 Mar 2011- Local Media] by Mr. Eugene Tan, an SMU Assistant Professor of Law. Let’s take a closer look at the choice of words.

While first part of the article provides a good analytical review of the Electorate in general, the second part of the critical review with a sub-title “STALEMATE AND DISARRAY” together the main caption “Deep fissures behind Opposition bravado” would have casted doubts, or even aspersions; to put the Opposition in deeper waters. Why is it so?

Firstly, “deep fissures” would suggest “irreparable damage” within the Opposition parties. An intelligent Electorate must look deeper, wider and even beyond what an analyst has to say. Are the signals really “deep fissures” or are they just “superficial hairline cracks”? His commentary was written after the second pow-wow last Saturday (5 Mar 2011) evening [Opposition Inter-Party Conference 2; 3 Mar 2011 - Events]

As pointed out in the last posting of In Focus, the interesting thing is whether a sequel will develop further to the initial infighting. But just look at the relative ease the SDA had given up a 3-cornered fight at Potong Pasir out of "goodwill basis" and “doing it for the purpose of opposition unity and also to give due respect to Chiam See Tong." The “disarray” might look irreconcilable to an analyst, but its final resolution was so “organic” and this is probably the way how our Opposition Parties work. [SPP to fight PAP 'one-to-one' in Potong Pasir SMC; 7 Mar 2011 – Local Media]

SPP Walkabout [Source : TODAY]
A layman understanding the basics about strategy will know what “element of surprise” is all about, having seen enough war movies. While PAP can play “wild cards” by not declaring the Election date or their new candidates earlier, the Opposition is not new to this game of “element of surprise”. There is no need to parade their traded horses. Nobody knows what are up their sleeves until Nomination Day. [Potential roadblock for SPP-RP alliance?; 5 Mar 2011 – Local Media]. The basic fact remains that as long as they do not belong to the same party, they have chosen to compete with each other. While it is good to avoid 3 cornered fights, the heavier responsibility now may rest on the Electorate.

Strangely, while political analysts might make “deep fissures” out of “hairline cracks” and disagreements between Opposition Parties, they are less willing to criticize “deep fissures” identifiable with our existing social fabric for fear of offending the Govt. These are great issues of concern to the Electorate, especially for voters who were never given a chance to vote in past Elections, due to marginalization by our GRC system.

Just when many had never vote before, the new media is abuzz with critics on major “deep fissures” observable on our social fabric, due to bad policies and failures of the existing Govt. Take for examples:-

(a) “Shocking revelation from Dr. Susan Lim's case” [27 Feb 2011- Letter to SGEP],

(b) “Ex-MOE scholar taught at school despite child porn charge” [11 Dec 2010 – Local Media],

(c) “Youth Violence and Gangsterism: one reason why” [18 Nov 2010 – Local Media],

(e) Elect Them? [7 Mar 2011 – Blogs ],

The above (not a comprehensive listing) are not problems due to our economic standing or affluence which asked for more or less spending on Budget goodies, GST at 7% GST or lower rate, etc.; they are problems showing failures of our “SOFTWARES” resulting in “deep fissures” under our nation’s social fabric.

Just as the Kent Ridge Common Blog said, [Enough of political opinions from Eugene Tan? 8 Mar 2011 – Blogs]; “is there danger in repeatedly soliciting viewpoints from a single source in a news coverage on any issue? Common wisdom teaches us that the more diverse sources of opinion we seek, the more balanced our perspective on an issue, whatever it is, will tend to be.”

“Despite the prevalence of a wealth of opinions elsewhere, on what grounds should the media only solicit the viewpoints of a few select individuals, no matter how brilliant they may be?”….. “‘Expert’ opinion on a particular issue should always be balanced by yet another ‘expert’ opinion on the other side to avoid potential myopia.”.

If the Govt sought to avoid the new media, and if some daring engagement by PAP MPs and Ministers is heavily moderated, and if ‘expert’ opinions are only sought from preferred sources, this will accelerate the further deepening of “deep fissures” in our community.

Now, let’s re-visit this article, “Facebook Democracy” cited in the Editorial on 18 Feb 2011. [ In Search of the Older Voters and The Impact of Facebook (FB) Democracy; Editorials (In Focus) – Archives]

“To have a functioning democracy, you need a functioning civic community. And community is all about the small things. It’s about the incremental increases in trust when you help someone out; the sharing of new ideas with new people; the building of a collective identity. Community helps a democratic society work out its shared values, and through this process, to ratify rules (and rulers) as legitimate. That process of communal affirmation is what democracy is all about, and while guns are an important part of all this (as coercion power), the process is ultimately discursive and imagined — which is to say, it happens through the sharing of information.”

What SGEP attempts to do as an aggregator in “a functioning civic community”, is to present voters a mix of “balanced” news, as in “sharing of new ideas” for “the building of a collective identity”. It facilitates voters to see alternative discerning views to allow them a wise informed decision later on when they cast your votes. In this way, the playing field is more leveled.

Ultimately, logics must kill arrogance; be it in the electoral battle or reality in life. And Hard Truths must “stand corrected” [MM Lee: "I stand corrected"; 8 Mar 2011 – Blogs], for a desirable outcome we see fair in the Election process.

More links to interesting articles are available at SGEP.

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