Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Voters must see beyond politicians’ online lives

By Tzou Jiing-wen 鄒景雯

It was not so long ago that the traditional ways of running a country or a government involved real-life politics.

However, with the advent of a new brand of politics, played out more in the virtual realm, the focus has shifted, and some of the less-energetic, less-driven politicians, having acquired a taste for this new brand of politics, are spending increasing amounts of time in the virtual world. This poses a new challenge for how politics is done.

This phenomenon is by no means unique to Taiwan, although it seems to be more apparent here, perhaps because the nation’s nascent democracy has yet to mature.

The media, which originally played the twin roles of informing the public and supervising the politicians, has long been preoccupied with trying to be heard in an increasingly crowded media environment. This complicates their ability to perform their functions during a period of political transition, and exacerbates the problem of a shallow political culture.

When Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), representing the previous wave of Internet celebrity politicians, was asked about the rise of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the new wave, he attributed the phenomenon to the public’s appetite for chasing the latest thing.

His answer is merely descriptive and explains nothing: It certainly fails to mention that politicians should be leading the charge, rather than being swept along by the tide.

More succinctly, the main reason for the increasing depths into which Taiwan’s politics is sinking is the opportunistic short-termism of politicians and the lack of any collaborative will to ensure that the nation stays on the right course.

Politicians favor virtual politics over real-life politics because the real world is a nuanced place, where issues are complex. If a politician with neither the requisite patience nor skill set attempts to tackle pressing issues, they will soon find themselves out of their depth and, if not careful, can easily drown.

In the virtual realm, invention takes on a life of its own, one that is further nurtured in the echo chamber of one’s choice, and real-world problems melt away. So people spend their time online, fabricating flattering narratives and not having to concern themselves about taking action.

This can even have the effect of influencing voting behavior. Adopting this approach is very persuasive and has indeed become the mainstream. Politicians elected solely on the back of their virtual-realm victories, who then go on to occasionally return to the real world to improve conditions on the ground, can still be regarded as sincere.

Indeed, it is conceivable that most of them start out with good intentions. As one has conceded, from their own experience, these two approaches are based on entirely different thinking: Once a politician has embarked upon the road of Internet fame, there is no turning back. If a politician does not want to be called old hat, they have to continuously look for new topics, simply to generate clicks and maintain their online relevance.

However, humans have limited energy. If a person spends their entire time cultivating their online avatar, where will they find the time to address complex, real-world issues?

Judge for yourself whether this is the case; whether Internet celebrity politicians continue on in their virtual domains, with little interest in solving real-world issues, after they take up their elected positions.

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