Disclaimer: Rice does not endorse or support any political party in Singapore.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) has announced their final lineup of candidates in the run-up to the General Elections. Soon, all parties will have completed the grand revelations of their new (or old) hopefuls. More significantly, it’s also prime time for us, Singaporeans, to step out of our hibernation caves to cure our post-Phase One hangovers.
“Where do we go?” the Karens may ask. To the Facebook comments section of course.
All Singaporeans sound the same until you visit the cesspool that is the Facebook comments section. An interesting dichotomy, however, has emerged between those who’ve commented on Channel News Asia’s (CNA) Facebook posts and those of the PAP. Nobody knows why, but it almost seems as if we’re all living in vastly dissimilar bubbles of reality.
First, let’s take a look at the comments of a recent PAP Facebook post:
As of the writing of this article, the post boasts 529 ‘likes’, 29 comments and 29 shares (kind of jealous, not going to lie). The feedback has been positive too, generating mostly thumbs-up or ‘love’ reactions.
At a cursory glance, the weirdly-jacked-arm emojis are rampant throughout the comments section. Many commenters have also taken the extra mile to show their ardent support using eccentric gifs and stickers. You can almost hear their voices through the screen with all that fervour.
But the overwhelming zeal doesn’t end there. Some commenters took to expressing dissent towards opposition parties. One particular user exclaimed:
Then there are the calmer commenters, who express approval of the PAP’s lineup:
Likewise, the comments section of the individual candidates’ introduction videos echo an overwhelming majority’s warm acceptance of these potential candidates:
Overall, similar attitudes of respect and reverence can be observed in the PAP’s latest post introducing Poh Li San:
And the trend continues, scattered across the other comments sections of their older Facebook posts:
Except for one gutsy one:
To these commenters, it seems as if the PAP can do no wrong in the upcoming elections.
What about the comments on CNA’s Facebook page?
Right off the bat, the reactions to one of their recent posts were—err—rough, to say the least:
Surprisingly, the post has garnered significantly more attention than the PAP’s, with 202 comments and 38 shares.
I couldn’t help but muse at the influx of pessimism, such as:
What was more unprecedented was the intricate exchanges between users who had much to say.
Take this comment, for example:
I was surprised by the discussion it opened up thereafter, with 24 replies under its belt. For the most part, the commenters debated over the credibility of the new candidates, and whether or not they could be trusted:
Another recurring trope is the questioning of candidates’ abilities to commune with the masses. Many commenters expressed doubt towards those they claim aren’t “bred from poverty”, and thus don’t have an adequate understanding of Singaporeans’ worries on the ground level.
In their latest statement detailing the additional candidates introduced, the comments were even more well-thought-out:
More (heated) exchanges ensued as well:
Unlike the PAP’s comments section, cynical adrenaline courses through the CNA commenters’ veins. The conclusive sentiment towards the new candidates is distrust conflated with suspicion towards their ability (or lack thereof) to enact ‘true’ change for the average Singaporean.
So, what gives?
When diving headfirst into the two pages’ comments sections, I found myself in two distinctly different virtual worlds—forts the individual occupants had built for themselves in the online sphere.
Those commenting on the PAP’s Facebook posts were akin to the crowds we see at an Olympic stadium, reveling in the hype leading up to their favourite athlete’s appearance.
The support was overwhelming; acclaim and admiration embodied in every comment.
On the other side of the stadium were the sardonic commenters on CNA’s post, where the tables were turned and credibility was hard to find. The crowds were booing even before the athlete had arrived at the starting line.
The differences between comments reveal much insight into Singaporeans’ perspectives on the new candidates. On CNA’s Facebook comments section, I came across a variety of comments that sparked serious discourse. In the PAP page’s comment sections, there appeared to be a more homogenous attitude towards the new candidates.
The reasons for this divide are unknown, but my observations recall the echo chambers that emerged during the 2015 elections. We witnessed the hype that built up during opposition party rallies; we witnessed (what seemed like) a majority of Singaporeans ready for the opposition to triumph over the PAP. Yet, the ruling party emerged victorious, even acquiring their best results since the 2001 election.
With campaigning going virtual this GE, more Singaporeans than ever will be turning to their keyboards to express themselves.
But it has been proven time and again that what happens online doesn’t always translate into reality. Can we actually trust the booing CNA commenters to turn the tables? The outcome may very well be inconsistent with our expectations.
Whatever the case, these distinct realms exist online, and can both be simultaneously accurate reflections of voter sentiments.
In the run-up to the GE, this online frenzy will go up a notch. For the rest of us, it remains crucial that we discern the candidates outside of all this hubbub. After all, we should cast our votes on the basis of the kind of future we think the different parties can lead us to, instead of allowing emotions to cloud our judgment.
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