The Impact of Live Streaming as a Tool for Political Campaigns in Singapore

1. Introduction to Live Streaming in Political Campaigns

Surprisingly, little work has been done to critique politicians’ live messaging. This study aims to establish the political norms of the live streaming medium in order to make visible how politicians use live debates in both matured and immature democracies to stimulate public discussion and draw attention to what they perceive as key political issues and how these issues and moments form the practices of mediated political interaction.

The use of live streaming Singapore in this study refers to the use of interactive real-time streaming that allows for transmitting video and audio content across the internet, similar to live television broadcasts, but for access by anyone using computers or out-of-home mobile devices. In the context of political communication, vividness, spontaneity, and interactive features make these channels suited for engaging voters while eliminating traditional institutional intermediaries such as the mainstream media and Singapore’s constituency grassroots organizations. As such, the formats of live streaming and television affect content. Politicians are aware that live programming is particularly effective in attracting viewership and maximizing call to action engagement through scrolling updates, real-time Q&A sessions, and commenting features which can guide politicians on discussions and generate feedback, while also allowing them to assess public sentiment.

The use of live stream service for political discourse goes far beyond the filming of political rallies, events, or broadcasts of debates and governmental events, into real political strategies which shape online public discourse, mobilize political actors, and insert virtual online audiences into the political space in real-time. Its full potential has not yet been entirely harnessed. It is a new form of mediated public sphere that is different from conventional communication platforms. Mass-mediated political communication traditionally includes politicians’ interaction and information dissemination through television, radio, newspapers, websites, blogs, social media, and even chat apps. Such mediated platforms bring political actors and audiences together in a virtual space which, despite being mediated, allows for multiple interactive and responsive moments. In contrast, live streaming allows the public sphere to exist in more spontaneous ways. Political actors can make an appearance, communicate directly from anywhere, and interact in real-time with other online participants.

1.1. Definition and Evolution of Live Streaming

In the past few years, many developed and developing countries have been actively embracing live streaming as a political tool. The major democracies that have used live streaming as a tool in political campaigns are the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In addition, a few lesser-known case studies on the use of such technology include those of Tunisia and Brazil. These cases have shown how political broadcasting content has migrated from traditional broadcast television to the internet. Further study was made on the dynamic and fast-growing countries to discuss the online revolution in politicians’ communications, election campaigning, and the use and role of live streaming in the electoral processes in these countries.

Live streaming is the continuous production and transmission of audio and video content through the World Wide Web. An evolution of the traditional webcast or pre-recorded video content, this streaming form allows for direct interaction in real-time between broadcasters and viewers. In a political context, live streaming is used to deliver party political broadcasts, political forums, and other events such as rallies, political speeches, and press conferences, using any given streaming platform or a political party’s website or social media account. The common denominator is that interaction occurs between the streaming creator/broadcaster and the real-time audience.

1.2. Benefits and Challenges of Using Live Streaming in Political Campaigns

Would-be supporters and/or voters who disagree or take issue with a government decision or action, who are looking for evidence that substantiates their opinion, seeking insight, advice, influence, and a compelling talking point, will take advantage of the opportunity to have a direct dialogue that can make a significant impact with a politician. This is more so when the politician is being more honest and open than he or she is in the written format and the tone and body language of the speaker may help to communicate the message as reflected in William’s et al.’s (2015) paper. On one hand, this is the time where ‘good’ posturing and talking points could develop into a viral message, whereas on the other hand, genuine interest and intention may be communicated or even be influenced by the interactions that occur in real-time relational building. Finally, live streaming has the potential to create instant news. Live broadcasting, especially live streaming, could potentially pose a real threat to the traditional media and create reliable and efficient citizen journalism. This is evident from when politicians or even journalists use Facebook Live with other cameras and sound streaming media to broadcast events. Such use could potentially change the news coverage perspective on the subject of interest.

Live streaming employs a ‘show now’ tactic by fostering immediate and direct access to a previously scheduled event. Singapore politics, similarly to other countries, is rife with speculation, gossip, and misinformation. Live streaming can go far in providing greater transparency in both political and policy processes. It can help build stronger trust between the government and its citizens by allowing them to have an exclusive and ‘backstage’ view of the policy process, creating an ‘in the moment’ unique and engaging experience and unfiltered communication. Additionally, live streaming can be quite beneficial in facilitating peer intimacy. The public can get to know the personalities of government personalities they otherwise only witness through limited clips, curated by traditional media, or they have learned about or have been acquainted with through other face-to-face (F2F) contact interaction in person or electronically, by watching smooth-talking presentations, TED talks, or listening to debates or giving press conferences.

2. The Role of Live Streaming in Singaporean Politics

The Singaporean government, nicknamed a “nanny state,” has traditionally been considered highly controlling of the actions of its citizens and the information made available to them. Public meeting and demonstration rules, allowing only gatherings of five or fewer individuals without a police permit, generally curtail mass activities. Additionally, the administration has a lot of control over information, particularly when it comes to the traditional media. However, times are now changing, and the right to share of Singaporeans has widened. Digital media, including online live streaming, has become a commonly used tool for both political parties and independent individuals to promote their political causes and engage with voters.

Singaporean politics has increasingly used digital media, particularly during election campaigns. Live streaming is a popular form of content creation that has become an important tool for both political parties and individuals to communicate and engage with voters. During elections, political candidates typically deliver their campaign messages via traditional media such as newspapers, television, and radio. However, the internet is becoming more significant as candidates now have the option to reach out to voters on various digital platforms. Besides the larger political parties, there is an increasing number of independent individuals who utilize live streaming to promote political causes and issues. This has created diverse participant types in the digital public sphere—a broader new space to engage people on issues and more sources of media content that are circulated and consumed.

2.1. History and Adoption of Live Streaming in Singaporean Political Campaigns

The technological push for local political players arrived at a time when timed rallies or organized political speeches addressed large gatherings. The British colonial government had maintained a firm law and order policy of prior police permits for all public outdoor events. Since the British colonial rule, conducting public outdoor assemblies or organizing political street campaigns in Singapore became subject to fixed rules and strict regulations. The demands imposed upon SDP’s application for police permits for their rallies revealed that the timing and venues chosen by opposition candidates to express their political views were of no avail. In other words, obtaining the green light for a political rally was sufficiently challenging, if not near impossible.

Over the years, the adoption of live streaming has changed the election campaign trail and rallies for political parties in Singapore. The concept of live streaming took root in Singapore during the General Election (GE) 2006. Prior to the introduction of live streaming, the organizers of political rallies distributed videos of political speeches to the mass media and online discussion forums. This would require the clips to be edited and transcribed into a digital format to fit the video portals of new media platforms. Today, YouTube has become another preferred social media platform for local political campaigns. The free and simple functionalities on both these platforms allow political events to be broadcast with minimal effort, costs, and time.

2.2. Case Studies of Successful Live Streaming Campaigns in Singapore

This analysis is not about the effectiveness of live streaming itself as a tool for a political campaign. Hence, this part of the chapter focuses on how candidates used the tool – that is, did they conduct it very frequently (almost daily), or did they conduct only one or two sessions, or to leave it a less important tool (or did not utilize it). There may be potential hazards of treating the live streaming tool as the carnival of political campaigns – it highly involves the character of political candidates, and the campaign effectiveness explains very little of how the live streaming was conducted. Finally, we shall attempt to summarize our findings based on these case studies – why the candidates choose this tool, or conversely.

In the 2020 elections, at least four successful electoral candidates held numerous live streams, had Instagram quizzes, and concerts to promote their campaigns. Generally, the candidates who bought into live streaming have been proven to be successful when the election happened. In this analysis, data of all candidates in whichever country or location in the election period were analyzed to find out how many of them conducted live streaming in their electoral campaigns that were held during the period. Thereafter, a further segmentation was done on the candidates with live streaming records and analyzed the respective key statistics. It is timely to include these successful case studies in this chapter to illustrate the potential of live streaming as a tool for political campaigning and to debunk the generalization of what the West sees it.

3. Regulations and Ethics in Live Streaming for Political Campaigns

The use of new media in political campaigns has introduced new ethical considerations that have not been a significant issue when traditional media was predominantly used. In a multi-method study, political consultant blocks, professional interviewees, and students were asked to discuss what they saw as the ethical and unethical uses of communication during political campaign. They found that political advertising was mentioned as an essential and ethical element even by political consultants, who had a mass communication background. Political advertising by political activists also had support as an ethical effort in a democratic society. However, the revealed ethical standards were dependent on the form and context of the advertising.

Ethics in Political Messaging

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the media and foreign entities are not allowed to participate during the campaign period. BCI was last updated in 2010 and does not address live-streaming directly. Instead, live-streaming is treated similarly to “more conventional features on the internet, such as blogs, and video-sharing sites like YouTube”. The ELD guidelines acknowledge that use of technology for campaigns would be beneficial if used “respecting the laws and rules”. Live streaming is thus considered indirect electioneering through the internet, which is allowed. It permits streaming of live events such as rallies but there are restrictions in accordance with election advertising regulations. Live footage of events held by registered political parties, candidates or independent candidates are under relaxed streaming regulations compared to other event types, such as those that are funded by and organised by a proprietary technology company.


3.1. Current Regulations and Guidelines in Singapore

In Singapore, the Broadcasting Act (Cap 28) and the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap 218) regulate political advertising. Section 78A(1) of the Broadcasting Act prohibits paid political advertising and makes it “an offence for election advertising to be broadcast out of Singapore”. In 2019, the Elections Department in Singapore also announced that internet advertisements on search engines and paid advertisements that display political parties, candidates, or their messages will be considered election advertising. This clearly demonstrates the direction that political advertising laws in Singapore are heading, as with an increased number of users participating in live streaming, managers and candidates will want to utilize these platforms to sway public opinion. Penalties for transgressions of these laws include fines of up to $100,000 or imprisonment for a term not to exceed 12 months; so, these are generally taken very seriously.

3.2. Ethical Considerations for Politicians and Content Creators

The recommendations are motivated by the European Union’s proposed revision of broadcasting rules, as they announced that all transparent political advertising must be clearly disclosed and labeled to the viewers when featuring in live streams. However, there are significant actors who argue to increase labeling requirements for all paid posts, including non-transparent advertisement featuring insight-based messages that are designed to engage and connect with the viewer through relatable but undisclosed sources.

There are also a myriad of ethical considerations for politicians who include content creators in their political marketing strategy. Content creators have a larger degree of freedom over how they frame the political content that is sponsored and can often shift accountability away from the politicians if the content creator’s political affiliation is not explicitly disclosed to the viewers or readers. These reasons are especially pertinent in Singapore, as political advertising is carefully regulated, and politicians in Singapore traditionally maintain a somewhat “professional and stable” image, constantly demonstrating respect and upholding dignity in the conduct of politics. In this paper, potential issues that are faced by politicians when they apply influencer marketing in their political communication are explored, and some recommendations that politicians might consider when they are exploring this new realm of political marketing are presented.

4. The Future of Live Streaming in Political Campaigns

Notwithstanding the restrictions on election advertising, the adoption of live streaming has the potential to spawn a hybridized form of political advertising that falls outside the confines of the legislation. When politicians encourage their citizens to ask questions via comments during these sessions, this blurring of political and non-political content has the potential to transform the candidates into politicians-influencers, thereby making the 2020 general election in Singapore the first of its kind where influencer-ism and politics coexist. Candidates might inadvertently find themselves influenced by their target segment’s interests, needs, and concerns more than by the shared platform’s rules.

4.2 Potential for Influencer Effect

While the number of invited chats of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) and Members of Parliament (MPs) not elected to Cabinet is still relatively low compared to those of the office bearers and key office holders, constituent reactions determine the hierarchy of chats, thus adding a degree of chance that may be seen as a form of competition within the overall electoral system. This, in turn, results in excitement or tension similar to that seen in the nomination process when single seats are contested. In contrast, when fewer than the maximum number of NCMPs from the opposition are elected in an election, the missing opposition members are declared without a vote: excitement is seriously limited. The effect is reduced further when the leader of the losing party in terms of either percentage and actual votes is permitted to become the leader of the opposition, while the technically elected leader’s intended party is declared without a vote.

4.1 Potential for Constituency-Based Chats

4.1. Technological Advancements and Innovations

Section 2. Literature Review In this era of transformation, many governments are increasingly utilizing advanced technologies mainly from the private sector to become more effective, efficient, and transparent in providing services to their citizens. As a result, expectations of a more citizen-centered democracy have also increased significantly. While live streaming services combine the modes of traditional face-to-face contact and webcasting, few academic studies have focused specifically on the subject. One reason is that live streaming is a relatively new innovation. Critics or researchers have referred to the use of tools with the characteristics commonly associated with live streaming by different names including Facebook Live, real-time live, live webcast, participatory channels, poll TV, and YouTube. As the tool is referred to differently and developed by businesses or implemented by different organizations, its key functionalities and potential usefulness may not be adequately highlighted or known. While previous studies have explored the increase in digital political engagement of young people via social media, this study suggests that not only young people but also large groups from different segments of the population with different social-political backgrounds would experience live streaming as a tool for political communication that fosters more meaningful interactions, enhances different levels and textures of relations, empowers citizens, and encourages citizen representatives to be more participatory.

Section 1. Introduction Several advancements in communication technologies such as radio, television, the internet, and social networks have revolutionized political marketing. The latest innovation is the widespread use of new communication platforms such as live streaming for political marketing. While the use of live streaming is relatively new and sparse in academic research, most of the works present it as an innovative tool for fostering interconnectivity and strengthening relationships on a global scale. However, in the context of parliamentary systems, the effectiveness of live streaming as a tool for connecting parliamentarians with citizens to facilitate meaningful engagement and influence decisions is still not well understood.

4.2. Potential Impact on Voter Engagement and Political Discourse

This research posits the view that live streaming will encourage the voting public to be more attentive to political developments in the run-up to the general elections. It remains somewhat difficult for the public to stay constantly abreast of political developments, especially so for the younger voters who have neither the time nor inclination to read from the long-form content of the traditional media. For the voting public, the reach of live streaming into the social media ecosystem and the ability of the platform to provide a better breaking news component means that it can help bring political developments to the fore. This, however, presupposes the presence of influential live streamers who are adept at engaging audiences on the subject of politics. Such live stream hosts who have dedicated followings are likely to develop and deepen the level of political engagement in the public. The public will, though, still have to distinguish between the differing styles of political input from the live streamers and determine what issues are worthy of their attention. This is necessitated by the high potential for the live streams to be co-opted by either the politicians themselves or by the political parties.

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

Although research has not been previously conducted on this topic in the context of the Republic of Singapore, and information on this topic has mainly been published through news articles, this paper has shown that live streaming can indeed magnify the reach of political candidates but not necessarily deepen their impact, as live streaming viewers rely on the candidness, integrity, and accuracy of the information they receive, and it is difficult to estimate the number of voters who are converted as a result after watching live streams. Nevertheless, any new tool for political campaigning merits observation, and if live streaming continues to be used as a tool for political campaigning for future general elections, it will be essential for the local media, political communication experts, and political candidates to conduct additional research on this topic in order to understand the evolving relationships between live streamers and viewers further and ensure that the spread and consumption of information through live streaming contributes positively to the practice of democracy in the Republic of Singapore.

This paper has demonstrated that live streaming on social media is a popular tool for political campaigning utilized during the two recent elections held in Singapore for the years 2020 and 2021. For both elections, live streams were successfully organized by political candidates and parties through their social media platforms weekly, and sometimes daily, during the campaign period. These candidates utilized live streaming to establish their credibility, enhance their appeal, connect with their voters in a meaningful way, and persuade the electorate to vote for their party.

5.1. Summary of Key Findings

In this study, we reveal the important role that live streaming has for political candidates who wish to gain public favor. Live streaming helps candidates to present themselves as real individuals and build favorable public opinion toward themselves, by taking part in real-time online conversations with essentially selected primary and secondary online citizens. Such live videos are conducive to building friendly relationships, as these facilitate closeness and empathy between the politician and the voter who, naturally, would be happy to exchange information or have personal contact with the politicians at the top state level at the same level.

In this study, we sought to understand the impact of live streaming as a tool for political campaigns in Singapore. In particular, we focused on footage showing political candidates interacting with primary citizens within this youth population, as posted on YouTube. Through content analysis, we have revealed four main types of activities performed by political candidates with primary citizens, as well as the eight main types of interaction, which highlight how primary citizens took part in these live streams. Consequently, the thematic analysis of online comments linked to these clips helped us to understand the possible states of positive participation and negative behavior by secondary online bystanders and the general public who were not involved in the streamed conversations.

5.2. Recommendations for Effective Use of Live Streaming in Political Campaigns

Candidates could take advantage of this feature by hosting more regular, more substantive online discussions with participants through platforms such as Periscope or Facebook Live. Secondly, live streaming allows for informal, spontaneous, and more varied content; thus, politicians should strive to keep a balance between their speeches as well as spontaneous remarks while engaging directly with their audiences to determine their views and educate them about public policy issues. Through these, politicians can also gain insight into the public’s opinion on various policies. Thirdly, increase interaction with both virtual and physical audiences. Engage with the online audience/experts during the “live” broadcasts. Use the inputs and ask online audience for questions and answers, thereby giving social media prompts for call to action. Fourthly, visuals will always leave a stronger impression on people’s minds than words, so when the occasion permits, switch from words to actions through photos and videos. The objective is to let the audience ascertain for themselves which candidate has the best personality, individual values, and integrity that they feel comfortable voting for. With these recommendations, political participants can potentially utilize live streaming tools to make political campaigns not only cost-effective but also engaging for their target audience especially among the younger population.

Live streaming can be an effective tool for political campaigns. For instance, it can help to enhance a candidate’s personal connection with voters, especially those who cannot attend rallies in person. It also aids in increasing a candidate’s self-exposure and can significantly lower the cost of political rallies, thus making the campaign process more cost-effective. Taking into consideration our research for this paper, we offer the following recommendations in the effective use of live streaming for political campaigns in Singapore. Firstly, live streaming can empower citizens and political initiates to create interesting and low-cost alternative content materials for political engagement.

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