Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Social networking platforms such as Facebook and MySpace are emerging as the next big thing on the internet. They are already used extensively by politicians elsewhere. Candidates in Singapore would presumably be allowed to use these to put up information about themselves and their positions, as such use would fall within the "positive list" of permitted uses of websites under the Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations (PER).

More intriguing is whether social networking platforms would get around the PER's current restrictions on using e-mail to spread campaign messages. The regulations allow parties to mail to their own mailing lists, but parties can't encourage chain letters: an e-mail is not supposed to invite readers to pass it on to all their friends. This prohibition limits the powerful viral potential of e-mail communication.

The interesting thing about Facebook and the like is that the viral quality is built in. These platforms introduce you to friends of friends in a way that doesn't seem to be captured by the PER, which was formulated back in 2001. Furthermore, what is technically being passed around is not a campaign message but the electronic version of a business card, which again falls outside the scope of the PER. However this particular type of business card can of course be linked to substantive content, including campaign ads.

Of course, everyone, including the regulators, knew that the 2001 regulations would rendered redundant by evolving technologies. Social networking services are just one more step towards the inevitable. The question now is whether the government will try to cover social networking in the next round of regulatory innovation, or if it will retreat.