Some netizens have pointed out that one of several hopefuls tipped to be fielded as a People’s Action Party candidate in the next General Election is a top executive at social media giant, Facebook. This emphasis comes on the heels of the massive Facebook data breach in the US that is allegedly linked to partisan politics.
The potential candidate netizens are zero-ing in on is 37-year-old Alvin Tan, who serves as head of public policy (South-east Asia) at Facebook. The Straits Times identified him as one of 200 potential candidates who may be fielded as ruling party candidates in the next General Election.
Although the report was published in December last year, it was shared with increased fervour recently:
Such posts noticing Tan’s post with Facebook and his link to the ruling party come as allegations that Facebook posts have been mysteriously disappearing without notification have been floating online. In a notable case recently, a Facebook post that was published on 7 Mar on the contrast between parliamentarians in the UK and Singapore mysteriously disappeared two days after it was posted.
The post’s writer, Chairman and CEO of Rafflesia Holdings Pte Ltd Mr Mano Sabnani, said that the post – which compared British Minister Lord Michael Bates with local opposition MP Sylvia Lim – had received 350 reactions, 155 comments and was shared 650 times before it was taken down without explanation.
Netizens’ concerns that social media websites can be used for political ends come as news broke last weekend that a data firm with ties to US politicians Ted Cruz and Donald Trump reportedly accessed information from about 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge nor authorisation.
The data harvest occurred as around 270,000 people took a personality quiz online that gave a Cambridge University professor access to their data and their Facebook friends’ data. This information, which was initially collected for academic purposes according to Facebook, was later transferred to third parties in violation of Facebook policies.
One such third party who received this data was Cambridge Analytica, a firm which worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The firm, which is known for exploring the usage of data to create “psychographics” in the electoral process, has asserted that it was misled as to what the source of the data was. The firm also denied that the data that it received was used for Trump’s campaign.
Despite this, Facebook has taken issue with the fact that parties such as the data firm still possess the information that was harvested through the personality quiz. It has suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, and is working with regulators to investigate the massive data breach.
Nevertheless, the scandal has caused Facebook’s stock price to take a plunge earlier this week, with nearly $50 billion being wiped away from the social media giant’s stock price. The company is also facing lawsuits from investors and website users even as a “delete Facebook” movement gains traction in the West.
Not the first time Facebook has been accused of meddling in global politics
While Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has claimed that his platform is a politically agnostic tool for its countless users, it is clear that the conglomerate actively works with governments and political parties worldwide.
Facebook runs an active politics and government engagement team that travels the globe helping their political clients use the company’s digital tools to drive their campaigns. The politics unit is believed to be sizeable – one executive reported that the unit could deploy hundreds of staff, drawn in from the company’s legal, information security and policy units, during the height of an election.
According to a report by Bloomberg, the politics unit has played a powerful role in the campaigns of US President Donald Trump, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, among others. The unit has also come under fire in the European Union, for the spread of Islamic extremism on the Facebook network.
A former senior staff with the politics unit, Elizabeth Linder who started and ran the unit’s Europe, Middle East and Africa efforts until 2016, told reporters that she chose to leave the company partially as she grew uneasy with what she saw as an increased focus on electioneering and campaigning. She said: “It’s not Facebook’s job, in my opinion, to be so close to any election campaign.”