When the Internet first became popular in the 1990s, there was much hype on how it would expand the communication of governments and politicians and how would it aid interaction between government and its people. Today social media has transformed government-citizen and politician-voter interaction globally with more and more government agencies working to reach their audience through numerous social platforms.
Social media has opened new lines of engagement that were not possible via traditional media, such as the newspapers, direct mail and television.
SIngapore has had a vision for quite some timeto be a collaborative government that co-creates and connects with the people online. eGov2015 is about “build an interactive environment where the Government, the private sector and the people work together seamlessly through the enabling power of infocomm technologies.”
It was several years ago that saw Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong take to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. But now, a majority of Singapore’s ministers in the cabinet are active on social media.
In a previous interview Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that people were spending more time on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and he wanted to have an online presence there too. While these platforms were not conducive for making speeches, there would be people on Facebook “who will not be reading speeches and this is one way to reach them”.
Governments are now using Facebook and other mediums to reach out to Singaporeans. On their public profiles, they comment on economic and social issues, and post photos of them interacting with the people.
"A Minister's use of online media enables the Minister to not only communicate directly but also to seek feedback and get a sense of public sentiment," said Eugene Tan, Assistant Professor at the Singapore Management University.
Social media creates a sense of nearness and immediacy between government and the public. In the case of Facebook or Twitter status updates helps information sharing. Its presence on mobile devices creates an around-the-clock connection.
The passing of founding father Lee Kuan Yew which not only hit the nation but the world! And the incident on Mount Kinabalu – where an earthquake that struck killed 19, including 10 Singaporeans – seven pupils and two teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary, and an adventure guide.
The passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew dominated social media in Singapore in a huge way: condolences from world leaders, tributes from party members and politicians, and the outpouring of emotion from his people. Social media was the platform for both people and their government to come together, mourn together and connect.
As for the recent Mount Kinabalu earthquake disaster, the communications efforts fell largely upon the Ministry of Education, as it was discovered most of the Singaporeans involved were students and school teachers. The Education Minister turned to social media to keep parents, press and the public informed of what was going on. His Facebook page was regularly updated with posts on what he and the ministry were doing for rescue efforts, as well as constantly offering condolences.
High level of social media activity and interaction provided a powerful means of crisis management and communication for these types of moments. Governments worldwide have upped their online presence.
The US government invests heavily in paying for social media-related services and funding research grants which help in order to understand American citizens online habits.
Politicians in Asia, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, are embracing social media to further connect to their supporters and convert even more voters. We just saw the Prime Minister of Cambodia join Facebook.
Mr Modi embarked on “e-diplomacy” when he joined Weibo to connect with the Chinese before making his diplomatic visit to Beijing. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, he attracted 33,000 followers within 48 hours on Weibo.
To conclude, Government communication on social media can only help legitimise decisions, promote a co-sharing of the ownership for shaping policies, connect with their people, be transparent and increase citizen trust.