Politics and social media in Taiwan


With local elections approaching the campaign is not just being run on the streets but also in cyberspace. The screen shot from the DPP website above shows the party’s candidates for mayor or county commissioner in the end of year local government elections. Beneath each candidate’s photo there are icons linking to Plurk, Facebook, blogs, websites and YouTube. It shows that candidates are actively using social media as tools in their campaign.

A number of leading DPP politicians including Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) are active users of Plurk. Frank Hsieh has just published a book called “Frank’s Plurk Diary”. He began using Plurk in April this year and now has 11,447 friends and 3,519 fans. Plurk is currently much more popular than Twitter in Taiwan because it has a Chinese-language option.

A brief survey of the KMT’s websites show they are lagging behind he DPP in the social media revolution. The KMT’s plurk account is updated regularly but it only has 402 friends and 383 fans compared with the DPP’s Plurk account with 3,433 friends and 1,246 fans. The DPP’s official Facebook page has 6,394 fans. A search for the KMT on Facebook reveals several pages or groups with a few hundred members. (It is not clear which one is the official page.)

What looks to be KMT’s official YouTube channel hasn’t been updated for seven months. In contrast the DPP’s YouTube channel is active and the most recently uploaded video is a well produced piece of political satire that takes a shot at the KMT’s poor governance in Taipei City.

President Ma has sought to engage with the public online via a weekly video. However, when the weekly video was launched in July this year it attracted criticism when it was discovered the next two week’s videos had been recorded and uploaded in advance. Ma was also criticised for not using YouTube. Chen Shui-bian had a YouTube channel when he was the President. The White House also has a Youtube channel.

While US President @BarrackObama, Australian PM @KevinRuddPM and the British PM @DowningStreet are among world leaders using Twitter, as far as I know Taiwan’s President doesn’t have a Twitter or Plurk account.

Michael Turton, a well known Taiwan political blogger said, “The blogosphere and social media worlds here appear to be overwhelmingly green. This says good things about the young.” Perhaps this also says something about the future direction of Taiwan politics.

7 Replies to “Politics and social media in Taiwan”

  1. To be fair, the official DPP website for a few years was really stuck in circa 2003 with no updates in design though occasionally the content was updated. And during the Frank Hsieh-Ma Ying-jeou presidential election, even though the Greens were sort of self-organizing and doing some interesting things online, it was Ma that had a lot of the creative media talent on his side. The 30-50 set, including those working in the media industry, were clearly in the Ma camp, although the KMT compensated them very, very well also. They were even hiring college students to blog for them.

    While the vocal hypersocials and otakus on the web in Taiwan have always been pro-Green (being progressive and technologically sophisticated seem to go hand-in-hand), there has been a visible mainstream internet shift towards the Greens as well. It’s absolutely overwhelming, and very visible on PTT.

    But instead of merely using the Internet to get elected, the DPP should really take up the issues of information transparency and truly well-designed, convenient, standards-compliant Internet-enabled e-government. E-government to the Taiwanese government in the past means simply dumping very legalistic documents online in an IE-only compatible website with overly cutesy Flash animations all over the place. Oh and number one and two links are an organizational chart and a message from the head of the department. Give me a break; the organizational chart I could see as marginally useful if it included descriptions of responsibilities or jurisdiction (but they never do) and the message of course is useless for 99.9% of people using the website.

    Making some random documents available online is not enough. It needs to be properly structured (tags with dates, locations) and released in a standard way that is easy to parse. You shouldn’t have to login and there should be a clean-looking, permanent weblink for all pages. They need to plan for CMSs that get updated regularly and notify people when there’s something wrong. You can’t have this idea that a website is an undesirable expenditure that happens every 4 years and that information only gets updated along with the the website redesign.

    Check out the weather bureau’s website for example. Even after Morakot, it’s still a big mess. PTS every day is producing so much good material, but where’s the archive with the the tags and the descriptions to let me search for episodes on things I want. Why can’t I easily watch news episodes from say three years ago. That’s my taxpayer money funding that; you’re not going to tell me the government is going to try to make royalties from that are you?

    Efficient government that really knows how to use the Internet could be an economic issue that the DPP could really use to get a leg up on the KMT.

  2. PassingBy, thanks for your interesting comment. You are right about the problems with the lack of web design standards in Taiwan and poor organisation of information.

    With regard to PTS I am sure there are ways they could improve availability and access to their programs. One problem is that they are often hesitant to make the programs available because they hope to make money off them via DVD sales or selling the rights overseas. I might add PTS do have a number of YouTube channels and their evening news is uploaded soon after broadcast.

    The ABC in Australia has iView which makes all its programs available via streaming. However, it is only accessible from within Australia and programs are only made available for a limited time.

  3. Interesting post David! I only read blogs in English about Taiwanese politics so nothing out of the ordinary ever appears. My wife isn’t that much into politics (she studied art, I studied business and political science) so she doesn’t stay up to date. Are there any exciting Taiwanese youth politics movements online? I mean the KMT and DPP aren’t really that exciting prospects to vote for. Old Chinese vs old Taiwanese, both sides just in it for the money.

    1. There is lots of Taiwanese political activity online. One of the main sites for it is PTT which uses the old BBS system. As for a new force emerging in Taiwan politics beyond the DPP and KMT I don’t think this will happen for a while. Minor parties and social movements struggle to have their voices heard. Competing in and winning elections is even more difficult.

  4. I wish Twitter is more popular in Taiwan. Personally I don’t like the interface of Plurk but I know lots of Taiwanese are using it.

    David, great stuff on your posts for Taiwan. There should be more foreigners like you introducing Taiwan.

    I rss your blog post feeds to our website.

    1. Jason, Thanks for your comment. I am sure Twitter will become more popular once it launches a Chinese-language version. Although Taiwan does seem to embrace web platforms that are not popular elsewhere.

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