In the age of digital media, Taiwan’s 2012 presidential candidates have prepared themselves to do battle in the labyrinth of social media networks. President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have readied their campaigns to appeal to “digital natives,” voters who were born in the 1980s. These natives can mobilize their power in a virtual world of technology by cross-using new media such as Plurk, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to set off a revolution in the real world.
Chen Shun-shao, associate professor of Journalism and Communications at Fu Jen Catholic University, told Commonwealth monthly that it used to be hard for social media to influence political power in Taiwan, but now it is the norm. The appearance of social networking media has changed and transformed today’s political campaign strategies.
President Ma’s campaign not only named their office “Taiwan Cheers, Great,” (a pun meaning “Like” as in checking the “Like” icon on Facebook), but also announced the establishment of a New Media Department on July 12.
Both candidates are adept with PDAs and social networks. DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen turns on her BlackBerry or uses her iPad to check her Facebook account. President Ma is also a Facebook user. If he sees any issues in his account, he will call Wang Yin-xuan, his new vice superintendent in the New Media Department. The two presidential candidates want to tap into the thinking and activities of Taiwan’s “digital natives.”
Wang said it is not enough to ask them to “please vote for me,” you have to play with them by adopting their habits. Chin Zhi-yu, 30, superintendent of Ma’s New Media Department said, what they want to do is to listen to everyone’s opinion by way of music or chatter through the social networking media. After all, much of their creativity originates from surfing the net. “We even welcome the visits of those who don’t like us,” said Chin.
Besides sharing his personal opinions on Facebook, President Ma has started using Plurk and Twitter as well, reported the Taipei-based China Times. Lee Chia-fei, spokesperson for Ma’s campaign office, said that sending out a large amount of short text messages through these two network platforms enables more people to relate to him.
Lee Hou-ching, press director of Tsai’s election campaign office, told Commonwealth that new media is not just a tool, it is has the influential power of integrating marketing strategies from video, Facebook, Plurk, text messages and news through smart phones. Another DPP official in charge of new media said those who are attracted via the internet are almost always between the ages of 25 to 30. They are young office clerks, new college graduates, executives, attorneys and other professionals, people not reached by the DPP’s traditional campaigns.
According to the web traffic monitoring site “2012 Presidential Election Fans Station,” the DPP which once led on the internet now falls behind the KMT. Tsai currently has 320,000 Facebook fans while President Ma has 850,000, according to a recent United Daily News article.
The internet is not a propaganda tool for political parties, but a way for net surfers to participate in the political process and influence party decisions, Commonwealth stressed. Taiwan’s presidential election is scheduled to be held in conjunction with the legislative elections in January 2012.