SHAYANNAH BECK, NANCY TA and ZHI XIAN LYU have spent weeks following the social media campaigns of the main candidates in the Melbourne electorate of Chisholm. They’ve found Labor’s Jennifer Yang and the Liberal Party’s Gladys Liu have been busy using tools such as WeChat to reach out to the electorate’s large Chinese-Australian population.
Chisholm’s two main candidates have been criticising each other in equal measure on social media but, when it comes to policies and the big issues of this month’s Federal Election, Labor’s Jennifer Yang and the Liberal Party’s Gladys Liu are polls apart.
Both women have been posting on social media platforms such as WeChat and Facebook at least once a day, according to D*scribe research, which looked at posts from January 1 to April 24 this year. Yang posted 202 times, while Liu posted 178 times in that time frame.
The type of issues they have been posting about have been varied but mostly follow their separate party lines – Yang has been posting more on topics such as health, education and the environment, while the Liu has been posting more about tax and the economy.
Researching the social media campaigns of Yang and Liu on WeChat is particularly relevant in light of the demographic makeup of the Chisholm electorate, which includes the suburbs of Box Hill, Surrey Hills, Burwood and Glen Waverley.
According to the 2016 Census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Chinese is the most common cultural heritage in the Chisholm region, with 19.7 per cent of the population reporting having Chinese ancestry. That compares to 16.8 per cent of the electorate reporting having English heritage and 14.6 per cent recording Australian ancestry.
The average number of households in Chisholm where a non-English language is spoken is 47.9 per cent, significantly higher than the national average of 22.2 per cent.
WeChat is a highly popular Chinese messaging app with more than one billion users, according to the iTunes App Store.
D*scribe spoke with Yang about the ability of social media to reach residents in Chisholm.
“Any chance we have to meet voters face to face, that’s what we believe is the best way … to better understand their issues and to better represent their interests. But we know it’s almost impossible to reach out to everyone in the traditional way. That’s why I’m very active on social media platforms, including Facebook, WeChat and Instagram as well,” she said.
Liu also spoke briefly with D*scribe about the value of social media use to her election campaign.
“Regardless of the social media app, whether WeChat, Facebook or phone messages, they are all good and helpful for me to better care about Australians and Chinese-Australians, and maintain essential communication with them,” she said in Mandarin.
In analysing the Facebook and WeChat posts of Liu and Yang, D*scribe recorded each time a particular message was conveyed in a post. The chart below depicts the content of these messages. Note, one post may contain more than one message.
The most common posts for both the Liberal and Labor candidates were those depicting them out in the community, promoting their campaigns or attending community events.
The use of WeChat in the 2016 Federal Election
The use of social media, specifically WeChat, was considered influential in the Liberal Party’s 2016 Federal Election campaigns for the seats of Chisholm and Deakin.
Liu ran the social media campaign for then-Liberal candidate for Chisholm Julia Banks, who went on to win the seat and become the only Liberal to take a seat from the Labor Party in that election.
In a WeChat post on August 7, 2016, Liu commented on WeChat’s influence in reaching out to Chinese-Australian constituents leading up to that election.
“The Liberal Party wins the re-election. I said to Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia, that the involvement of ethnic Australian Chinese in Victoria had a direct impact on the election results in Chisholm and Deakin constituencies, and resulted with the Liberal Party winning the re-election. He agrees,” Liu said in this post.
D*scribe found there was a substantially higher number of posts on Yang and Liu’s WeChat platforms that focused on the Chinese-Australian demographic than there were on Facebook. These posts communicated information about Chinese events, functions, festivals and celebrations.
The results are depicted in this chart below.
WeChat has been an important virtual space for both candidates in this year’s election to communicate information about themselves, such as their aspirations and personal values.
Yang discussed on her WeChat profile page her beliefs and what she hoped to achieve by using WeChat.
“To listen, insist, act first, and to be pragmatic are my firm beliefs. I hope that through WeChat … I can hear everyone’s voices more accurately and express my aspirations more completely,” Yang posted.
Likewise, Liu communicated her values and what she believed in on her WeChat profile.
“A positive energy, practical actions, speaking for and serving the public … Let’s work together to rewrite Australia’s political history,” Liu posted.
The Facebook factor
Although WeChat has been a significant influence in reaching Chinese-Australian voters, both candidates have been equally using the power of Facebook to reach out to its potential base of 2.38 billion monthly active users.
The graph below demonstrates the proportion of election-related posts made by Chisholm’s two main candidates on Facebook compared to WeChat. From this graph, it is evident that Yang made substantially more election-related posts on her official Facebook page than on her WeChat account.
In regards to community feedback on Liu and Yang’s Facebook pages, by the end of the D*scribe research period, Liu had 734 followers on her official election Facebook page, and her page had been liked by 689 people. In comparison, Yang had 1978 people following her, and 1915 people liked her Facebook page.
Yang discussed what she had learned about social media campaigning during her experience running for the role of Lord Mayor of Melbourne City Council in 2018.
“The biggest thing I learned actually was (that) to be a leader, the best way is to put out a very clear vision and action plan, and I find that is actually the best way to empower people and inspire people to follow,” she said.
Yang said repeat targeted messaging was an important social media strategy for her campaign.
“So we just want to make sure that on my social media, we are more targeted and focused on these messages. Because these days, unfortunately, it is like information overload. We see so many messages everyday on social media, so I want to make sure my messages don’t get lost out in the sea of information,” told D*scribe.
D*scribe analysed just how recurrent and targeted the messages of Liu and Yang were across both social media platforms. The charts below depict the top five most prominent election topics that Liu and Yang discussed on WeChat and Facebook.
The most prominent policy concerns Yang discussed on WeChat and Facebook were similar, with health, education and environment/climate change topics tallying the top five most featured on both her social media platforms.
In Liu’s case, messages regarding building a stronger economy and negative campaigning of the Labor party, were evident across Facebook and WeChat.
Notwithstanding the benefits of social media to reach out to the Chisholm community, Yang noted one issue of social media was misinformation and inaccuracy, which may mislead or confuse the public.
“An issue with social media is that there could be a lot of … misinformation, and it’s really hard (to deal with). We don’t have time go through all of this misinformation, and so all we can do is make sure we update our own information, and hopefully build our trust with people from our own official account,” she told D*scribe.
Despite this, Yang said a key positive feature of social media was its instantaneous communicative nature.
“That’s why I think actually the biggest advantage I see from social media is that people these days are so used to communicating on social media and we can get back to people much quicker and much more instantly,” Yang said.