Governance of a City-State
[The Angle] Battle for Eyeballs: Online Media in the 2015 Election

Compared to the 2011 election, GE2015 has seen a flowering of new political media sources online. The mainstream media online websites and old players such as The Online Citizen (TOC) and Yawning Bread are still there. But the last four years have seen very pro-PAP entities coming on stream as well as those in the middle of the political spectrum, such as, The Middle Ground, Six-Six and Inconvenient Questions (IQ). This is a further normalisation of the political cyberspace.

But existence is different from impact. As demonstrated by the IPS’ 2011 post-election survey of media use, the online frenzy did not mean that everyone was reading or sharing election material, especially from alternative, non-mainstream websites.

This time round, more people seemed to be reading both mainstream and alternative websites, as well as posting their own views on Facebook or as comments to articles. In 2011, only 15 per cent of people used SMS to share election information, but this time round, anecdotal evidence suggested that the use of WhatsApp to talk politics was more widespread. All these can only be confirmed from a second media use survey IPS is conducting right after polling day.

Meanwhile here are some initial observations that we made of the online space, in the run-up to polling day:

1) More issues were discussed and discussed in all sorts of ways. The content and style range from the very deeply serious to the entertaining. Some sites mixed weighty subjects with light treatment, including, The Middle Ground (TMG), TOCTV (the video channel of TOC).

2) The relative reach of sites (how popular they are compared to each other) can been seen from their ranking on services such as Alexa and SimilarWeb. Singapore political news media sites are ranked as follows compared to all other Singapore sites¹:

Table 1: News Media site Rankings


¹ SimilarWeb takes into account number of unique visitors to a site and page views. The page views are for August and  only includes views from desktop computers. Alexa’s ranking uses a combination of average daily visitors and pageviews over the past month. Does not provide data for Yahoo SG.

We do not know why AllSingaporeStuff has such different rankings on both. This website is similar to the sensationalist and questionably accurate TheRealSingapore, which closed down recently on government orders.

3) Definite data on absolute reach of the sites (that is, what proportion of people are reading, writing and sharing them) must await the survey. editor Belmont Lay described the surge in viewership in the last two weeks as a “tsunami’. Its top three articles were:

i) DPM Tharman’s speech is the only reason why people still have hope in PAP

ii) Ex-GIC Chief Economist Yeoh Lam Keong issues badass reply to DPM Tharman’s now-viral speech

iii) We were wrong about WP East Coast candidate Leon Perera. He’s immensely awesome.

The articles together “pulled in half a million page views,” said Mr Lay.

4) Each of the following politicians had election-related videos garnering a total of over 500,000 views, not small in a 2.46 million electorate: PAP leader Lee Hsien Loong, WP chief Low Thia Khiang, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan, and PAP candidate Sim Ann. Note that viewership does not translate to popularity, as some of the videos could have been watched for the less than flattering aspects of the candidate. As for individual videos, these went viral on social media:

a) PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the UOB Plaza lunchtime rally, 8 September, 560,000 views

b) Ms Sim Ann’s “chut pattern” speech attacking Dr Chee Soon Juan, 7 September, 418,000 views

c) Dr Chee Soon Juan’s first speech, 3 September, 224,000 views (not including the 300K for an earlier video of the same that has been taken down).

d) The documentary by filmmaker Tay Bee Pin about Dr Chee and his family, Behind The Man, released just before Nomination Day. So far, it has been viewed 305,000 times. These videos played a large part in the resurgence of Dr Chee among voters.

e) DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s speech at Jurong GRC, 5 September, 294,000 views

f) Mr Low Thia Khiang’s Teochew speech, 2 September, 191,000 views

5) Bertha Henson, founder of the three-month old The Middle Ground, which has brought a serious yet often quirky take on events, told us that the site had gotten 114,000 views since the writ of the election. Its most popular article was a piece on PAP hopeful Ong Ye Kung, which got 6,000 views.

6) IQ is home to the old-style extended political discourse that its head Viswa Sadavisan calls “boutique” journalism. Its videos of debates that go for over an hour-and-a half attracted over 17,000 views, a respectable figure given the form and format. IQ said its website on 9 September pulled in over 35,000 page views, the same day it ran a discussion on how mainstream and alternative media have covered the GE ².

The above does not discuss why some content or websites are popular. It also leaves out the question of how content is changing people’s knowledge, opinions and perceptions, and of course the big question, how it influences their vote. The above also does not take into account the scale and the impact of other aspects of new media, for instance, Facebook and WhatsApp. In particular, the role of smart phones needs to be investigated. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it leaves out what is the most important question: how social media impacted politics in Singapore in this election, and how it will do so in the long run.


² Views expressed during the discussion included those from former senior reporter Ramesh Subbaraman and ex-senior civil servant Bhavani Krishnasamy. Their comments were at 29:12 of the video clip.


Tan Tarn How is a Senior Research Fellow at IPS. View his profile here. Tng Ying Hui and Andrew Yeo are Research Assistants.

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