Singapore used to be called a nanny state. Now it has a government attuned to social media.
Singaporeans still get their news from the mainstream media, we are told. That may be so. But the mainstream can no longer ignore the social media. Not when even the leaders have Facebook accounts.
The use of social media can backfire, as Grace Fu found when she aired her views on the proposed pay cuts for ministers. The Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts wrote on Facebook:
“I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. … If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office.
Bang! The netizens struck back with howls of derision, noting ministers will still earn million-dollar salaries even after pay cuts.”
I would rather not go into who was right or who was wrong. The minister did leave behind a lucrative career to go into public service with all that entails, including the criticism and ridicule for giving her personal opinion. Whatever one might think of her views, she was certainly being candid. Not every politician would have been so forthright.
What’s more, she had the grace to thank her critics for their “candid views”.
“I realise my last posting could have been misunderstood. The committee has done a thorough job with a substantial recommendation over a fairly emotive topic. I accept and respect the recommendations,” she said, adding she is “honoured to be given the opportunity to serve the people,” reported Today.
This kind of interaction would not have been possible without social media. The mainstream media reported the news, but it began with the minister’s comment on Facebook.
And Singapore is better off for it. The government is getting direct feedback from the people and acting on it. Immigration, housing, the decision to tighten the inflow of foreign workers show the government is listening to the people. And the people can see that themselves. Despite the occasional flaps and gaffes, the new media, I think, can bring the nation closer together. Because everybody’s talking, everybody’s listening. The leader in his office, the man in the street. The mainstream media no longer gets between them like a gatekeeper. Not when almost everybody is on the social networks.
Whatever one may think of the power of the press, there is no denying the power of the social media.