An Ivan Lim saga case study: How breaking the silence can backfire

Photo credit: People’s Action Party

Internet infamy hit former People’s Action Party candidate Ivan Lim like a hurricane this week, following multiple social media accusations of bad behaviour.

The official GE2020 campaign season hasn’t even begun, but the fresh face has already bowed out, according to a Lianhe Wanbao report.

Shortly after he made his first public appearance as a candidate, allegations of him being “condescending”, “elitist” and “arrogant” appeared on social media, by people claiming to have worked with him in polytechnic, during national service and at his workplace.

While he eventually responded to accusations of his failings, as what most crisis communication textbooks would advise, here’s why it backfired:

1. Why so late?

There was radio silence from the man for three days, before his statement issued via PAP. Three days is a long time on social media, and enough time for faecal matter to brew and hit the fan. And his statement came shortly after heavyweight candidate and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told the media that Ivan should “clarify these comments”.

Prior to that, Ivan appeared to have declined comment when the media asked him about the allegations. He missed opportunities to clear the air, and his belated statement makes it look like he had no choice but to do it because the boss spoke up.

2. What’s with the errors?

Never mind that it took three whole days for Ivan to break his silence.

His response was riddled with errors. The date was wrong — it read June 28 when it was released on June 27 for immediate reporting. Worse still, the letterhead spelled the party name wrong — the Malay name should have been “Parti” and not “Partai”.

PAP’s comms team did correct the date later, but the “Partai” howler was still there.

Innocuous errors, you may say, but what does this say about Ivan’s or the party’s crisis management in this situation? It was a rushed effort.

3. “Me, myself and I”

It was a statement to address his reputation damage and the hurt he may have caused to people he knew, but unfortunately, there was a glaring lack of the latter.

To quote a commenter on Mothership, it sounded like “a little boy who was punished by my mother to write a letter about why I came home late last night”.

It was mostly about justifying his actions and how he (and his mother) have been affected, and nothing to acknowledge how his actions may have caused upset to others.

His statement invalidated the indignation and unhappiness, if any, that the accusers felt. A little more expressed empathy would have gone a long way to defuse the negative sentiment.

Community support

All that said, there were some in the community that stood up for Ivan, among them his colleagues:

Facebook community ‘Gong Si Mi Singapore’ also posted this image that helped put things in perspective:

The caption on Gong Si Mi’s post read: “Mock mock mock. Chan Chun Sing and Tin Pei Lin were mocked when they were first introduced as candidates. And see how well they are doing in their respective roles.”

If there are any lessons to take away from this episode, it would be: please do not attempt to fight fire as how this Ivan Lim case study has shown.

In contrast, another PAP candidate, Shawn Huang, seemed like he was going to be dragged into negative social media chatter. This was following a post by a netizen alleging some poor work encounter with Shawn during the 2018 National Day rehearsal. Shawn very quickly addressed the allegation head-on:

The move has won praise judging by the positive comments. It also certainly helped that there is an outpouring of sympathy for Ivan’s exit. I hope Shawn will stay the course and face the real test at the ballot box. Meanwhile, I wish Ivan and his family all the best.

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