Given Trump’s tweeting, Hong Kong people should welcome Carrie Lam’s stand on social media
Alice Wu says the reluctance of the chief executive contender to reach out through Facebook or Twitter could mean she prefers to get the job done rather than win public praise, a reassuring quality in a leader
It’s difficult to see why setting up a Facebook account would involve such a long deliberation process for one chief executive aspirant. It would seem to be a no-brainer – social media broadens public engagement.
Having started “late in the game”, and being deemed “too removed” from the lives of ordinary citizens, social media is probably the best way to establish a direct channel of communication with the people, even though studies have pointed to the limits of its influence.
Social media is central to public outreach. As seen not just in the US presidential election, but also our own Legislative Council election in September, campaigns are most active on social media.
Electioneering on such platforms does, of course, mean candidates have less control and a lot more work for their campaign offices. There is less control over what people say and share about you. Opponents and their supporters can hit harder. And there’s also the demand and pressure to generate content. Public engagement has become much more demanding of campaign resources since the advent of social media.
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And in the very scripted world of politics, where teams specialise in tweaking words and tuning nuances, social media does give candidates a less-packaged feel. Calibrated well, it gives them that personal touch. It’s a craft and, if done correctly, enables them to build rapport, as well as broaden their support base in ways unavailable through the more traditional electioneering channels.
Of course, one can be too focused on social media – think the current US president. There are limits to what one can explain in 140 characters on Twitter, and it is downright dangerous to be politicking and addressing complex issues within the brevity of tweets, fuelled by impulse in the middle of the night. But for those who loathe the political elite, off-the-cuff comments, irrespective of whether they’re true, reasonable, offensive, bullying or worse, are welcomed as being “real”.
Given the latest public relations disasters for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her chief rival’s lead on social media, it’s even harder to understand why Lam is not using this platform. Maybe she’s in need of a late-night post or tweet. Donald Trump has used it to make his silver-spooned self “relatable” to the people. The tale of Lam having to go to back to her former official residence to get toilet paper could have been be relatable, too. Who hasn’t had that out-of-toilet-paper experience? It could even have been funny.
But, in many ways, it’s easy to understand Lam’s unwillingness to go down that route. Engaging everyday Hongkongers isn’t required of chief executive campaigns. The reason is obvious: candidates are looking at less than 1,200 of the electorate – that is, the Election Committee members.
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If taking on social media would expose Lam to more vulnerable moments like the one of her looking challenged in front of an MTR turnstile, then perhaps it is smart to stay away . As long as enough of the 1,200 or so believe that she is a competent leader for the city, her struggles with Octopus cards and toilet paper do not make one iota of difference.
And perhaps, in this day and age, there is virtue in being extra cautious, especially when it comes to social media.
Maybe Lam cares little for public approval and praise, or ratings – at least we know she is not a narcissistic megalomaniac. The “iron lady” is too busy with real work to “like” or care, for that matter, what people are saying about her. We can be assured that she won’t be caught running for the hills over some knee-jerk comment.
In today’s world, that should give people some peace of mind.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA