CeDEM Asia 2016, Discussion: Enthusiasm for Political Topics

How to fill people with enthusiasm for political topics via social media (discussion hosted by KAS, Singapore)

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The discussion was led by Sayasat Nurbek (Institute of Public Policy, Kazakhstan).
Astik Sinha (Bharita Janata Party,  India) told us about the masses of Indian youth voters who are engaged on Facebook.
Ben Guerin (New Zealand National Party, New Zealand) was active in political campaigning and started a consulting company. He looks at how politicians engage on social media and the value of these activities.
Rajit Hewagama (United National Party, Sri Lanka) runs a consulting compagny for digital communications and strategic communications. In Sri Lanka some journalists disappeared and have been murdered, so they are scared of publishing anti government data. Social media allowed to bypass the mainstream media without relying on forms of media that could be censored. Now some ministers complain that media freedom came to far (sometimes those who have been in the oppostition before).
Pheaktra Neth (Spokesman of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Cambodia). The special body is set up between the UN and Cambodia to investigate the war crimes in the region. There is a young cohort of Facebook users in Cambodia. Sometimes there are postings about plans to kill someone, f.i. an officer, in a ceremony. The government has, however, no plans to control the social media or the internet. Campaigns are now focusing on social media and see it as a chance for the next 2017 and 2018 elections.

Truth vs. visibility?

We are now entering the second phase of social media, with a general phobia in many governments in Asia towards counter-revolutions. F.i. in the Hong Kong Umbrella revolution case, many protesteres used now Firechat as police switched off the mobile networks. In the West there was the worry that the liberal are dominating the social media. However, with view to dominating views, social media rather promotes echo chambers and oxygen might be provided to political movements that thrive on anger etc. These network effects are only going to be a better problem in the future. There is the fake news phenomenon plus people taking on extreme or simplified views: the information that gets the most views is not necessarily the most truthful. However, social media literacy is also changing, and people might do more fact-checking.

The discussion also revolved around the rise of Facebook and its power regarding the definition of truth and manipulation. Trust filters are now established within our friends (reputation networks). Also it was discusses how much censorship was done in social media by the government. India, for instance, has one of the highest rates of requesting Facebook for user data. Regarding the prediction of elections via social media data, so far many cases might have been luck, also due to problems of representativeness.

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