Friday, December 7, 2012

What Did Americans Say About the US Presidential Election on Weibo, China's Twitter?

With more and more interaction between the United States and China, there is a growing number of American government agencies, companies and individuals opening accounts on Weibo, China’s Twitter. The accounts connect the US organizations and individuals directly to their clients, fans and friends in China. But did these American accounts really lead to better mutual understanding, especially the Chinese's understanding of America? 
The 2012 US Presidential Election is a big event that caught the world’s attention. Many Chinese also followed the campaign closely and discussed heatedly about the Candidates and the President/ Vice President Debates. My question is, what did American accounts say about the election on Weibo? Did they influence their followers' opinion about the Campaign and how?
I searched verified accounts created by American government agencies (i.e. the U.S. Embassy in China), enterprises (i.e. American Airlines, Columbia, Coldstone), NGOs (i.e. Environmental Defense Fund), celebrities (i.e. singer Adam Lambert, former Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles Joy Chen, “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua) and the media (i.e. NPR). Here are my findings:
The account of the U.S. Embassy in China played an active role in introducing the election to its Chinese followers. Through Weibo and their Chinese blog, they shared knowledge about American Presidential Election, information about the Candidates’ activities, pictures of American waiting in line to vote on the Voting Day, and also organized offline information sessions and activities for Chinese audience.

Picture1 The U.S. Embassy Beijing hosted the U.S. Presidential Election Results Event 2012 on Nov.7, 2012 (Beijing time). U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke explained the election process and watched the election returns with the audience. The guests also participated in mock voting. (from the Weibo  account of the U.S. Embassy in China)

American enterprises and NGOs did not discuss much about the election. Most of them use the Weibo accounts to spread messages about their products/ deals and issues/ activities on a regular basis.
American celebrities seldom post on Weibo by themselves. Someone helps them translate their posts into Chinese and then post online. Chinese Americans like Joy Chen and Amy Chua sometimes write their microblogs in both Chinese and English. The celebrities usually do not interact directly with their Chinese followers and do not touch on political issues. I can only find Adam Lambert and Joy Chen talked about the election and President Obama once or twice. Joy Chen’s followers followed up with their own comments, but Adam Lambert’s fans didn't seem to take it seriously. After Lambert wrote "In case I hadn't been direct, I am voting for OBAMA - 我就直说了吧,我把票投给奥巴马.” on Oct. 27, one commented that “I like Obama too. He sings really well”.
The American media on Weibo mainly broadcast news about China’s issues and do not talk much about the election in US. During the campaign time, the NPR only shared a video of 4-year-old Abigael "tired of Bronco Bamma (Barack  Obama) and Mitt Romney" and two links to their webpage on the Election Night. They also organized 8 Chinese audience to watch the second Presidential Debate and listened to their comments.

Picture2 On Nov.1, 2012, the NPR Weibo account shared the video of the 4-year-old Abigael crying over the Presidential Campaign and apologized to the sobbing girl. The microblog got 714 comments and 4514 retweets by Dec. 6, 2012.

In conclusion, Americans on Weibo primarily focus on their own business in China, rather than introducing their country to Chinese audience or the other way around. Considering their goals and the interests of their audience on Weibo, the American accounts do not necessarily mention the election, although the US Presidential Election became the trending topic on Weibo several times. In this way, we cannot simply conclude that Americans joining in Weibo will promote Chinese people's understanding of the US and its people. Taking it one step further, without enough exchange of knowledge and ideas of people from each other countries, globalization and the worldwide use of Internet may lead to the same services and products, but not necessarily mutual understanding and better cooperation.

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