That’s the number of followers Lee Hsien Loong commands on Facebook.
This was what prompted interviewers Kym Ng and Evelyn Lam to declare Singapore’s prime minister an “influencer”.
Although Lee was quick to qualify that “1.2 million accounts [do not mean] they’re all fans” during a Mandarin interview shown on Mediacorp Channel 8 last night (April 28), it’s fair to say the country’s leader is popular, at least on social media.
On Instagram, Lee has 383,000 followers and his posts on both platforms are usually well received.
His pages contain the usual government policy messages but also show him taking wefies with Singaporeans and other photos of scenery and wildlife he encounters.
In fact, when Ng, a veteran Mediacorp host, revealed that her Instagram followers only recently crossed the 100,000 mark, her heavyweight interviewee encouraged her to “keep it up”.
But Lee wasn’t always this fond of social media.
He only started becoming active online after the general election of 2011, when Khaw Boon Wan, the current Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, suggested he try it as a new channel to reach the electorate.
Lee acknowledged during the lighthearted interview that he adopted social media slower than some of his colleagues, such as former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo.
“I hadn’t because I was old-fashioned. My attitude was what Lee Kuan Yew once said: If you want to say something, don’t say it every day, because too much and people get irritated. Wait until you have something important to say, prepare it properly, deliver it seriously, people would notice.
He continued, “If you speak every day, it becomes like flowing water, nothing interesting. If every day you post what you eat, you went for a run, your OOTD (outfit of the day), it’s not interesting, so I avoided it.”
Today, the 67-year-old revealed, he has “a small team” supporting his online activity, although he would try to vet everything that goes out.
The team plans ahead “one to two weeks” of what important messages to post, while Lee would on and off share his random snaps and musings.
On how strong his and his team’s social media game is, however, the premier said it’s a “secret”.
What aren’t secret are his now-common wefies with the public. They’re usually requests from the other party, “because I’m actually more shy,” Lee said.
The one wefie he admitted to be his request was with swimmer Joseph Schooling, who was invited to Parliament after winning Olympic gold in 2016.
“It was a one-in-a-million opportunity.”
When it comes to taking photos, does the PM do it like us ordinary folk?
“I would take many and choose two or three. Impossible that every photo looks good.”
Just like we do!
“I edit but not faces and bodies. Maybe just the brightness and colours,” he remarked.
Apart from scenery, when asked what catches his photographer’s eye, Lee said he loves stills that capture interactions between people, when you can see expressions and emotions.
“If I can photograph those, it’s the best, but my skills are not there yet.”
Like any popular influencer, Lee even had handy advice on social media presence and identity.
“I only post when I find something interesting or meaningful. If it’s just to cultivate an image, after some time people would see through it and know this is not the real you. But if you only post serious things, people might find it too heavy.”
Reportedly the first variety-genre host to interview Lee, Ng told Toggle, “I honestly had no confidence that I could do it, so I was quite scared.”
Lam is a television news anchor.
But Ng said Lee gave “a very reassuring feeling” and was “very calm”, so it helped.
The hour-long broadcast also sees the PM discuss topics such as fake news, freedom of expression, automation, artificial intelligence, Smart Nation and active ageing.
Here’s the full programme:
You can read more here.
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