Who would have though a Chinese social media platform could influence the result of the upcoming Australia Federal Election?
Since last Friday June the 17th, the Chinese Australian community (known for its habitual indifference in politics) has rallied against ALP after a couple of Chinese news channels operating on WeChat – THE Chinese social media with 600+ million active users around the world including in Australia – published two articles highlighting two of its policy proposals as the base against ALP.
The two policy proposals in question are: 1) Safe School Coalition; 2) raise of Refugee intake quota. While these are hot topics igniting many heated debates in many Australian communities, it’s the first time I have seen these topics so eagerly discussed (and largely resented) within the Chinese Australian community.
The headlines read like this:
(Translation: ‘Fellow Chinese Australians – Do Your Part, Do Not Allow Safe Schools to Continue to Harm Our Children, Physically and Mentally!’)
(Translation: ‘Chinese Australians Are Furious! ALP Promises to Offer 30,000 PR to Refugees! International Students and New Migrants Are Crying! One Netizen Comments: ‘God Forbids ALP to Be Elected!!’)
When I first read these news, I, without much knowledge of both policies and having a hard time deciding which party is less nonsense, wasn’t too impressed, for three reasons:
- Both articles look to me quite out of context and exaggerating. Surely there are more facts to be looked into before one can make any decision;
- It’s really just a one-sided view, people will read other viewpoints, do more research, and form their own opinion.
- The journalists who wrote these articles can hardly be considered as journalists, rather propagandists. Who these days would buy into them?
I couldn’t be more wrong, as it turned out.
In just two days, more WeChat public accounts (loosely resembling Facebook’s ‘Page’) that are run by and for this community started to either share these articles or publish more articles elaborating their viewpoint, most with a call for action to vote for any party but ALP. My own WeChat is flooded with a surprisingly united voice to vote against ALP – citing one popular headline ‘for the sake of our children, NEVER vote for ALP’. These are seen on Moments (equivalent of Facebook wall update limited to friends), on Subscription Channels (equivalent of newsfeed by following public accounts), and almost all Australia-related groups I belong to. Overnight, some of my WeChat connections who cannot be more distant from politics suddenly became devoted campaign volunteers. One school mother, when asked if she’s made a choice for her daughter’s primary school next year, said ‘oh I’m no longer so sure about my choice because the school has signed up for Safe School program. You know the horrible things they said about the program’.
By then I realized three things:
- Just how popular WeChat is among Chinese Australians – nearly every single one of them use it every day; I knew it’s popular but this is such a powerful demonstration
- A surprising amount of Chinese Australians do not read hardly any other news/information but what’s written in Chinese, on WeChat, and so many WeChat-based information providers are thriving because of that;
- It’s a community that’s so easily to be influenced when done skillfully (which I would have hoped not to be true)
From Tuesday July the 21st (four days after the initial landslide resentment against ALP), things started to change. Someone at ALP must have realized the extent of damage it’s suffering, and is trying to recover by curating content focusing on a newly released ‘favourable’ policy proposal – a 3-year visa for visiting family. As part of the Chinese culture, parents commonly move in to live with their adult children for an extended period of time (often years) when they become grandparents. Such visa would be a dream for many Chinese families for that very reason. Suddenly the anti-ALP voices seem to be a lot weaker.
It has only been less than a week that the Chinese Australian community is being fully engaged in the latest federal election. It’s probably the first time ever that this community is being so fully engaged in any federal election. I am watching with utmost curiosity how the opinion will continue to swing and how the campaigners would leverage the power of WeChat with this community – or totally miss out – leading up to the election day.
I am not here to cast my view on the election itself nor the policies in question, but I am truly fascinated by the vehicle that is enabling such lively engagement (for right or wrong reasons), in a language other than English, for a rising community of voters (I read one article saying Australians with Chinese origin are almost 2.3% of the population but I have not been able to validate this number), through one social media platform that’s not well understood by non-Chinese speakers.
WeChat, although largely contained within the Chinese-speaking community, is definitely not to be overlooked by any Australian ‘business’.