WeChat can support democracy and elections despite censorship concerns

The sometimes-maligned Chinese social media and messaging app WeChat can enhance democratic participation and be broadly compatible with liberal democracy, according to a new study published by the Lowy Institute.

The new analysis paper WeChat’s role in Australian democracy: a grassroots view looks at recent local government elections in the state of New South Wales and finds that the app expanded, rather than restricted, access by Chinese-Australian voters to quality news content, and bridged gaps in the provision of public services and information to migrant communities.

Author Xueyin Zha analysed qualitative data collected from online group chats and conducted interviews with Chinese-Australian politicians and media editors for the study.

“At least for now, WeChat is an enabling space for Chinese-Australians to realise some of their core democratic rights,” she notes. “Enhanced regulation and oversight would increase transparency and public understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of the online platform in Australia’s democracy.”

Lowy Institute Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Hsu says the research adds further understanding to the flow of information within Chinese-Australian communities, and how political participation and democratic access can be enhanced.

“Better understanding the way that communities access information can help Australia’s democracy,” she said. “It shows that it is possible to reap civic benefits from WeChat in Australia, while being alive to the risks.”

The study is published at the Lowy Institute website. The research has been developed under the Lowy Institute’s Multiculturalism, Identity, and Influence Project, which is funded by the Australian Department of Home Affairs.


Shane McLeod
Director, Media and Communications
+61 409 461 795