Australian politicians are targeting voters on WeChat. But fake content could end up costing them

(CNN)As Australia prepares for its election, campaigning is heating up on China's biggest social messaging platform.

It's the first time, social media experts say, that politicians from both of Australia's main political parties are making a proactive push on WeChat to win over the country's ethnic Chinese population, which has almost doubled in a decade.
They say it's a positive step in engaging with a community which doesn't always consume mainstream media and that has found itself caught in the political crossfire in the past.
    But as WeChat increasingly becomes a campaign battleground ahead of Saturday's election, it's also become home to misinformation.
      Some users have shared a screen shot of a tweet which appears to show Labor leader Bill Shorten -- a frontrunner for Prime Minister, according to recent polls -- saying: "Immigration of people from the Middle East is the future Australia needs."
      But there's a problem: The tweet is not from Shorten's verified account and his campaign told CNN he did not send that tweet.
      Labor is so worried about the effect of false posts that it has written to Tencent, WeChat's Chinese parent company, according to CNN affiliate SBS.
        WeChat's parent company Tencent did not respond to CNN's questions on if it had received a letter from the Labor party, and what it is doing to prevent the spread of misinformation. However, WeChat users are able to download a filter to identify possible rumors, and can report groups if they are concerned by the content.

        A new kind of campaign

        During Australia's last federal election in 2016, the eastern Melbourne electorate of Chisholm voted Liberal after almost two decades with a Labor MP. The winning candidate had an additional weapon in her arsenal: An underground campaign on WeChat.
        WeChat boasts over 1 billion users worldwide, and has an estimated 3 million users in Australia according to marketing company Bastion China. Well-known figures and media outlets can make public posts, but most content is shared behind closed doors -- either peer-to-peer, or in WeChat groups which can have up to 500 members.
        There are more than 1.2 million Australians of Chinese descent -- 5.6% of the country's population -- and almost 600,000 speak Mandarin at home, according to the country's 2016 Census. A survey last year by Chinese media researchers Haiqing Yu and Wanning Sun found 60% of Mandarin speakers in Australia used WeChat as their main source of news and information.
        In Chisholm, where almost 20% of residents are of Chinese ancestry, the Liberal party led a WeChat campaign in 2016 focused on three issues: Backing its management of the country's economy, opposing same-sex marriage, and criticizing Safe Schools, a program to ensure schools are safe for all LGBTQ students.
        "It was lowest-common-denominator politics," the Labor candidate for Chisholm, Stefanie Perri, told The Guardian at the time. Gladys Liu, who spearheaded the Liberal Party's WeChat campaign and who is a Chisholm candidate this election, said if Labor policies were good, they could dominate WeChat. "But Chinese don't like their policies," she told The Guardian. CNN has reached out to Liu for comment.
        This time around, Labor is determined not to lose the battle on WeChat.
        Haiqing Yu, who researches China's digital media at Melbourne's RMIT University, said Labor lacked a clear social media policy towards the Chinese community during the last election, while the Liberals used WeChat effectively and won. This election, there has been a clear change in Labor's strategies, said Yu.
        Recent posts from the "Bill Shorten and Labor" WeChat account and the "Scott Morrison" WeChat account.
        An account entitled "Bill Shorten and Labor" makes Chinese-language posts almost every day from the campaign trail, and Shorten has hosted a live discussion on WeChat, fielding questions from voters.
        The Liberal Party, too, has been continuing its efforts to win Chinese Australians over. In February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened a WeChat account, and since then has been posting Chinese-language articles detailing his policies and encouraging people to vote for him.

        Why target Chinese voters?

        It might seem strange that politicians are devoting time and money to Chinese-language campaigns on WeChat: ethnic Chinese are still a minority in Australia, and politicians on both sides engage in anti-China rhetoric