Friday, May 24, 2024

Live Streaming and Politics: Engaging Citizens in Singapore

Benefits of Live Streaming in Politics

 

Another added benefit to live streaming is that it allows for citizens to view parliamentary sessions or political events unfiltered. As such, there is no alteration of the content aired or any government censorship. This was rather evident during the coverage of the recent General Elections of 2011. Through alternative media sites, live streaming Singapore had allowed citizens to view unfiltered content and receive additional insight into the different political parties in Singapore. An example would be The Online Citizen’s live stream coverage of the rallies of different political parties in Singapore. Through the live broadcasts and interviews, citizens were able to gain a better understanding of the various political parties and engage in discussion about Singapore’s political future.

The advent of live streaming in politics has indeed proven to be beneficial in the Singapore context. Live streaming Singapore allows for political events to be streamed live over the internet, allowing for a larger viewer audience compared to normal attendance of the event itself. The live stream of events such as the National Day Rally and the parliamentary sessions of Singapore by the various social and traditional media has allowed for citizens to gain access to political events with an added level of convenience. This has thus increased the awareness of political issues in Singapore and engaged citizens into discussion about current affairs and government policies. This is especially so for the younger generation who generally do not pay attention to political events in Singapore. The live streaming of such events provides an alternative means for them to understand the current political landscape in Singapore. An example would be the 2012 National Day Rally which was streamed live for the first time in Singapore. During the broadcast, there was a 65 percent rise in viewership based on the previous year’s National Day Rally.

Increased Accessibility to Political Events

Unfortunately, not all viewpoints will be positive. The PAP during the 2020 general election had expressed concerns over the effectiveness of their physical election campaign due to their priority on safe distancing and the effect it will have on reaching out to the pioneer and merdeka generations through mobile and online technology. This will be a good case study for how alternative technology can increase accessibility for different generations as there is a possibility that the previous generations can learn to use technology to stay updated with political events.

The concept of political equality is deeply entrenched in the society of Singapore as an ideal that is of the biggest importance. But where the democrats hope to achieve a society where each person has an equal voice in policy decisions, in reality, this is not the case. Even though Singapore has regular general elections for parliament, only some qualified voters may vote for a candidate to represent his or her constituency in parliament. But through the use of live broadcasts done by the WP or political forums conducted through social media, citizens will be able to watch or participate in these events without the need to be physically there. Though in recent times, due to COVID-19, public events have been cancelled to minimize the risk of infections. The Singapore government announced on 24th June 2020 that e-rallies will be allowed for the upcoming general election and should add further details on how political parties can conduct them. This would be a good time to test if live streaming can increase overall citizen’s participation during political events.

Real-time Engagement with Citizens

Real-time engagement would also be very beneficial for government feedback channels. A common feedback from citizens is that there is an overall lack of two-way communication in government feedback channels. Many have used the feedback-o-meter at REACH exhibitions to say that they do not receive responses to feedback given. Having real-time discussions would allow for citizens to seek direct responses from public officials on issues and feel more assured that their feedback does not go unnoticed.

Gillespie has stated that “intensive monitoring and instant response can provide an unusually tractable form of popularity feedback.” This is especially applicable to Singapore’s situation where citizens are very concerned with the immediate responses from the government upon an issue being brought up. Real-time engagement allows for citizens to actively participate in discussions with public officials. This can be seen in the experiments that were conducted using live streaming during the Australian elections. Viewers were able to submit questions and receive live responses from the politicians. This engagement is especially crucial in a society with increasing apathy towards politics. Real-time engagement with citizens allows for the discussions to be more interactive and thus increasing the chances of citizens being able to retain the information as well as being encouraged to participate in future events.

Challenges and Concerns

At the opposite end of the spectrum to fake news is undue exposure on the government and its civil servants. In 2012, the MDA noted that political content could not be streamed “live” as it would not be “suitable for a general audience in Singapore”. With the potential to bypass this regulation, the fear of public scrutiny may lead to more frequent checks and regulations of the content that is put out, or possible changes in policy regarding censorship of political content. This, of course, would affect the freedom of expression in politics and undermine the benefits of live streaming an uncut, uncensored view of political events.

Another challenge, but less of a concern, is the fact that live streaming politics is a brand new concept with few taking the lead. This is good as Singapore will be able to take advantage of being up to date with the latest technology, but learning from mistakes made in other countries is important, so Singapore should keep watch on the future progression of live streaming politics in other countries.

Limitations of technology are other concerns for Singapore’s foray into live streaming politics. Currently, it is not compulsory for subtitles to be shown on live programs. This has been stated in the disabled community’s forum, with one member of the public, R. Thiagarajan, suggesting that the government should make use of technology and provide subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing community. This is due to the fact that live streaming may be the only source of media that provides the deaf community with political news in a form of audio and/or visual that they may understand. With the slow adoption of new technology and limitations of existing technology being the cause of this scenario, it may take some time before the full benefits of live streaming can be offered to all communities in Singapore. Lack of editing function that is present on hosted video platforms is also a limitation of existing technology and may deter politicians from correcting mistakes made during a speech. However, this may be a minor case as the ability to playback and analyze one’s own performance is a benefit that live streaming provides, which is not possible on traditional media.

Live streaming in politics brings about several challenges and concerns. It is widely believed that this innovation in political communication may pose a risk of increasing misinformation and fake news due to many reasons. Unlike traditional media, in which information has been checked by journalists before being transmitted to the public, live broadcast bypasses this form of vetting and analysis, which means politicians can put their spin on the truth. Another reason for misinformation and fake news is the fact that this information becomes archived due to many platforms offering streaming services of said content, as well as the ability to later upload on sites such as YouTube. If misinformation or fake news is reported and later understood to be the case, it may be difficult to remove the said content and may provide viewers with an altered understanding of the event.

Misinformation and Fake News

With easier access to publishing online through social media and blogs, misinformation is increasingly prevalent, and the information environment is notably more chaotic. One of the key concerns of misinformation is the ease with which it can be generated and spread. Unlike traditional media where information is filtered through several processes to ensure its credibility, this is not the case with online information. The absence of regulation on the Internet makes it simple to create and publish information that can mislead with no larger agenda beyond a simple hoax. The lack of gatekeeping online is a sharp contrast to the tightly regulated environment of traditional journalism in Singapore. This creates a situation where netizens are inundated with information, but it is difficult for them to discern credible information from the rest. Information literacy is a key issue in Singapore’s education curriculum, and an informed society is crucial for the democratic process. When the public is not able to ascertain credible information, it is more difficult for them to make politically sound decisions.

Privacy and Personal Data Protection

The internet has greatly increased the availability of information and knowledge to society. Citizens are able to enjoy vast digital resources to enhance their learning, communication, and connectivity with others. These resources have become increasingly important for seeking out information regarding social, legal, and economic rights and benefits. However, citizens using the internet are vulnerable to having their personal data collected and misused as they leave digital footprints on all websites they visit. This personal data may be tracked with software that monitors what the user does online or be the records of transactions and interactions with various websites. With the substantial growth in data collected and being able to be linked to specific individuals, there is a real threat to personal privacy and autonomy.

Privacy is a fundamental human right that is enshrined in the Singapore Constitution. Article 14 of the Constitution protects this right and states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with the law. Further, it declares that every citizen has the right to an education and provides for the establishment of a national education system comprising all schools and institutions. These education provisions support and supplement initiatives in promoting accessibility to public and private digital spaces.

Digital Divide and Accessibility Issues

An emerging concern is the possibility of a digital underclass developing as a result of the growing technological demands in education and work environments. This underclass would consist of those without the skills to use ICTs effectively, and the lack of such skills would serve to further exclude these individuals from the rest of society.

This ranges from online shopping and banking to accessing medical records or taking part in distance learning exercises, and all assume a basic level of internet skill. At the baseline, the digital divide is commonly associated with those in a lower socio-economic status or of an older generation. While several initiatives are in place to provide opportunities for these groups to enhance internet skills, the growing importance of the internet in daily life will make this an increasingly difficult task to accomplish.

Digital divide was first coined in the mid-1990s. The term refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard to both their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their use of the internet for a wide variety of activities. While computing is far from being an essential skill, the current uses and future potential of ICTs undeniably suggest that those not actively involved in the digital environment will be excluded from many aspects of modern society.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Although there were no statistics to show if it was better than traditional methods of media engagement, it was well received by the candidates and is a first step to drive more candidates to use digital platforms for future elections.

A pilot was done by the ELD to live stream the Nomination Centre proceedings on the eve of elections. This was a success, and it was decided to extend this to various constituency political broadcasts. There was a technical briefing conducted by MCI for all the candidates to guide them on how to set up an event and live stream it.

One of the new criteria for elections this year is to ensure that campaigning is done in a fair and safe manner. Live streaming was considered as a safe way to deliver “speeches” as it limited physical interactions, and candidates were able to reach a wider audience without the need to leave their homes. This was a replacement for physical rallies and a trial to see if it was an effective tool for voter engagement.

This meant that there was a need to find alternative ways to engage the audience, and live streaming was one of the viable options. Another reason why it was an appropriate time to test it was that 4G mobile service was available in all MRT stations. This made it easier for commuters to access live streams anywhere and to test if it was a useful platform to reach the people.

In 2020, a snap General Election was called amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a challenge for both the politicians and the election commission to carry out an election while adhering to the strict health and safety measures in place at the time. One of the guidelines was to limit physical interactions with others, and this led to restrictions on physical rallies, which were a core campaigning tool for many years.

Successful Implementation of Live Streaming in Singapore Elections

The second and successful implementation was for the Punggol East By-Election in 2013 where The Straits Times broadcasted the first-ever YouTube “live debate” for politicians, which was streamed live and also accessible on demand thereafter. This allowed viewers to post questions in real-time for the politicians and generated an interactive experience for netizens. In addition to this, there were live Twitter feeds by Strait Times journalists providing live updates and analysis on the debate as it progressed. This facilitated users to engage in dual-screening and allowed for a more enriching debate experience. This was a fine example of how live streaming was able to connect with the audience and create a lively and interactive discussion.

Live streaming political elections in Singapore has been found to be a success. The first trial was at the Singapore General Elections 2011, at the National University of Singapore’s U-Town. The YouTube Live Stream service was used on the NUS campus for the first time and was found to be a useful tool to generate buzz and awareness of the event for youth. The campus student political parties held lunchtime rallies over 2 days, and the videos of these rallies were streamed live and also saved on YouTube. This led to increased publicity and awareness of the event and was also very convenient as it allowed students to view the rallies without having to travel to the specific rally sites. This is in line with Article 24 of the Singapore Election campaign advertising guidelines for internet advertising.

Impact of Live Streaming on Citizen Engagement

Feedback from the participants states that online coverage is convenient for them because it grants access to political events anytime and anywhere. This is very different compared to live event coverage in certain locations only. This can be a preparatory step for citizens to watch the political events on TV and to further understand the issues in the elections, which leads to the formulation of vote choice and being politically socialized. It can be said now that the internet is not just an alternative for information gathering, but it is soon becoming a new mass media for the future.

A case study of the use of new media is the live streaming videos of the General Elections to Internet users. During the nine-day campaign period, various forms of media were used to broadcast political rallies, forums, and interviews. It was reported that the live streaming of these events was well received by the Internet audience as the traffic and web hits to these sites increased compared to previous years. This shows that the online community has grown over the years and is able to influence and attract more citizens, especially the younger generation, to watch election campaign coverage through the use of new and social media.

The use of new and social media is very important for the government because it helps to create awareness and disseminate information and knowledge to the public. It also enables citizens to participate through the feedback channel in an easy way compared to traditional media, which is through letters to the forum.

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