This story was produced by Ceci Mak and Bilian Loi
WeChat is undeniably the largest social media and messaging app in the Chinese community, with a record 1 billion monthly users reached in March 2018. More than 2.5 million Australians are believed to be using the app, with more than 10,000 shops and restaurants in the country already using WeChat as a mode of payment, according to the ABC.
As such, it comes as no surprise that politicians are using WeChat as a medium to reach out to voters this election, especially in the Melbourne seat of Chisholm, where 19.7 per cent of the population have Chinese ancestry and 15.6 per cent speak Mandarin, according to the 2016 Census.
Gladys Liu, this year’s Liberal Party candidate for Chisholm, started running a WeChat campaign for the previous Liberal candidate for Chisholm Julia Banks in the 2016 Federal Election. Banks went on to win the seat.
On March 27 this year, Labor leader Bill Shorten and his party’s Chisholm candidate Jennifer Yang held a half hour online conversation in WeChat with Chinese residents. The chat included an audience of about 500.
This year, WeChat has become one of the main campaign weapons of the election in Chisholm.
“I do have a WeChat account, but I’m always annoyed by the election news I receive in my professional groups. I’m an accountant, so naturally, I pay attention to policy changes. But there are many incomplete news that doesn’t show the full picture circulating on WeChat,” said Don, a 40-year-old Bod Hill resident.
Don, who did not give his last name, has called Australia home for 15 years. Hailing from China, he agrees that it can be an advantage for politicians to be able to reach out to the Chinese-speaking crowd on WeChat.
“But WeChat has still been quite helpful. There are many Chinese living in Australia who are unable to read English, and I think it benefits them to have a Chinese medium,” he said.
However, there is a disadvantage.
“There are so many groups on WeChat. Some of them pretend to be official ones, and if you don’t look carefully, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish them,” Don said.
“I’ve read so many news on WeChat that turned out to be unreliable, and so I’ve chose to use WeChat strictly to talk to my friends and for business only.”
WeChat has also been accused of spreading fake news, with many anti-Labor campaigns being aired just a week before the election.
Ping Guo is only 15 and not eligible to vote yet, but says she has been bombarded with election-related news on WeChat.
“I have seen many of them. I know there are official accounts, but I do not follow them. Regardless if the news is real or fake, I don’t trust any of them,” the Glen Waverly teenager said.
“I don’t trust any of them partly because it’s difficult to make sure if the news came from an official site or not, but also because of how many unkept promises both sides has made. I hope it’ll be easier for me to differentiate between real and fake news in the future.”
WeChat is not completely popular in the Chinese community, it has also alienated the older generation who are not as tech-savvy.
Some Chinese from Hong Kong or Southeast Asia are not obsessed with WeChat. Plus, Chinese who was born or who have lived long time in Australia, are not as keen on WeChat. They tend to prefer to used it only for conversation with their friends or relatives.
“I know candidates of Chisholm they created an official WeChat account, but I watch news stories from television and it is my main social media platform, not from WeChat,” Ping said.
Wesley is a 20-year-old living in Doncaster. “My family don’t use WeChat, we watch news from Facebook and newspaper, we watch ABC and it has Chinese version,” he said.
Seventy-five-year-old Zhi Cheong Liang says he’s not sure how to voice his opinions.
“We have good access to healthcare here (in Box Hill). However, the waiting time for buses are too long. As a business-owner, I also want my voice as an employer to be heard. I want to bring my complaint up to someone, but I do not know how,” he said.
Liang says his primary source of information is the Chinese newspaper.
“I mainly read Sing Tao Daily. I would like to have a variety of other newspapers to choose from, but my English is not good enough,” he said.
“I have tried using WeChat. I have an account. But it’s too complicated. I don’t use it anymore.”
WeChat is similar to Facebook, where official accounts can broadcast news articles to all their followers and they can leave comments under news articles. But interaction and participation with these news stories can sometimes be low.
“I read a lot of news stories on WeChat and through newspapers. I want to give my comments, but I don’t know where. Sometimes, comments are allowed. But even then, I’m not sure if anyone sees it because no one replies,” 35-year-old Li Tong said.