“They appear to have sold premium ad space to Frydenberg, and his ads are authorised by him. These ads were sold to the WeChat page through an agent,” said media and communications academic Robbie Fordyce.
Dr Fordyce and PhD candidate Fan Yang are researching the Australian presence of WeChat, which is owned by Shenzen-based technology giant Tencent and has 1.28 billion monthly active users, its latest quarterly report says.
Ms Yang said the Australian Financial Review WeChat page has a number of Chinese-Australian followers who would be considered business elites or professionals. Recently it has covered topics including inflation and China-Australia relations.
“The value of this audience group can be viewed as higher than international students or first-gen Chinese migrants. The perceived value of the audience group has a positive impact on the price of their advertising space,” she said.
Dr Fordyce said while public follower counts are not available, he estimated the page was in the top 5 per cent of Australia’s WeChat accounts, judging from their publication rates and other engagement counters.
“These pages are best understood as professional Facebook pages, that publish news articles as blog posts, and support themselves with their own advertising,” Dr Fordyce said.
“As with the rest of Australia, WeChat’s users negotiate their news sources with differing degrees of competency and media literacy. They’ll have a different opinion about each of the pages they follow. Most won’t see these posts as ‘gospel’, and plenty will see these as sensationalist clickbait.”
Haiqing Yu, a Chinese digital media expert from RMIT, said the article’s title, which asks whether Mr Frydenberg is “coming back for political revenge”, is typically hyperbolic. But she said the “hopeful” sentiment of the article did loosely reflect Mr Frydenberg’s popularity within the community.
“Even though he is no longer in politics, he still has strong support among Chinese voters,” Dr Yu said.
Dr Fordyce said the Chinese community in Australia has more small, or family-owned, businesses than the broader population. “Frydenberg’s business-friendly approach was seen as more aligned to the Chinese community’s interests,” he said.
He warned that social media services in Australia – including WeChat – are not adequately regulated to protect citizens, whether young or old, from misinformation, electoral deception, or radicalisation into extremist political positions.
Mr Frydenberg was not immediately available for comment.