Sat, Jan 29, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : Quality time, not face time, is needed

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has once again demonstrated his preference for style over substance with the launch of his own Facebook page yesterday.

There’s not much on the site yet, just two videos, some personal information like his birth date, the address of the Presidential Office Building, a brief biography and a short statement about how he hopes to use the site to share views with the public. Oh, and he listed jogging and swimming under “interests.” These details are hardly earth-shattering or informative, yet by yesterday afternoon, 62,551 netizens had clicked on the “like” button on Ma’s page.

Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said on Thursday it was natural that in such a wired society as Taiwan the government would use the Internet for heart-to-heart talks with the public.

The good news is that now Ma is on Facebook, he can join the millions of his countrymen and countrywomen (on both sides of the Taiwan Strait) who play Happy Farm. The game, in which players grow crops, trade and sell their produce or just steal it from others, could provide him with useful skills for cross-strait negotiations — or it might have, if he had started playing it before the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement was signed, a pact that basically gave away the farm as far as many Taiwanese are concerned.

However, spoilsport Lo was also at pains to reassure the public that Ma would not spend too much time on his new Facebook account, noting that his boss was good at time management and would only be posting messages occasionally.

Well, so much for the idea of Ma keeping in touch with public opinion and sharing views.

One can only hope that Ma does a better job communicating via his Facebook page than he has done with his much-touted online video addresses (Weekly Journal on Governing the Country) on Saturdays, which if memory serves was also meant to be a platform for two-way communication with netizens. The idea was for Ma to comment on events occurring each week, a plan that spectacularly backfired on him in July 2009 when a far more technically savvy netizen than the average Presidential Office staffer realized that Ma had recorded at least three weeks worth of speeches.

Ma has frequently shown himself impervious to outside advice and that would appear to be the case here, for just a few weeks ago one of his presidential advisers said successful people don’t spend too much time on Facebook. Lee Chia-tung (李家同) also said people should spend more time learning about things and engaging in more meaningful activities.

Of course the real reason Ma has launched a Facebook page has little to do with exchanging views and much to do with next year’s presidential election. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) appears to be of the belief that young voters are more inclined to favor the Democratic Progressive Party and so it is trying to develop a hipper image to make up for the lack of substantial and effective policies on issues of concern to young people.

Issues such as the lack of jobs for graduates and vocational school leavers — as well as many middle-aged workers — declining pay scales, grossly inflated housing prices, profligate government spending on fireworks and anniversary events to the detriment of social programs and a government that appears unwilling to defend the nation it is supposed to represent, all of these and so much more cannot be tackled with a few words on Facebook.

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