Government Goes Viral

The Rising Star of Social Media Editors

2020 / September

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Brandon Yen

In their communications with the public, government agencies are turning away from old habits of issuing haughty pronouncements couched in stuffy officialese. Instead they are employing social media editors who are full of whacky ideas and are a match for every conceivable challenge. These editors expose fake news and interpret policies for the general public by making connections with everyday life and topical events.

Social media editors have been brought into Taiwan’s public sector in recent years. They use their creativity to draw attention to important policies. Popular perceptions of public services have consequently undergone a sea change.

The Ministry of Finance boasts social media editors whose satirical brilliance has dazzled Internet celebrities. The editors at the Ministry of Education have taken the mickey out of their minister in jaw-­dropping ways. The National Palace Museum has editors who have riffed off the famous painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival with huge ingenuity.

However, despite the fun, these roles are by no means sinecures. Underlying the editors’ apparent ir­rever­ence is the full trust of their employers, and their eloquence is buttressed by a thorough know­ledge of legislation and policies. The editors seem to keep regu­lar office hours, but they are expected to provide immedi­ate responses both online and offline at all times. Jewel Lin of the National Palace Museum explains that a social media editor has to be tolerant enough to take in poisonous comments, and robust enough to face up to challenges from all quarters.

We have interviewed the social media editors of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, and the National Palace Museum. Each and every one of them deserves our respect!

“Macaron Girl” wins over netizens

“I allow you to be exported! Come back to life, thermometers! I command you, cast off your restrictions! Your bonds are broken!” Exports of digital thermometers were temporarily banned earlier this year because of Covid-19. To publicize the lifting of this ban in April, social media editor Lu Chia-wen of the Ministry of ­Finance adapted a magic spell from Zenki, a Japan­ese manga series familiar to people in their 30s and 40s. Her post was viewed by more than 620,000 people.

Since late 2018, netizens have been relishing the zany humor of the MOF’s Facebook editors, who have successfully reversed the ministry’s unpopular associa­tions with “death and taxes.”

Working under the name of “Macaron Girl,” Lu Chia-wen and Huang Kailing have joined forces with Junu Wu, an otaku subculture expert, to form the MOF’s social media team. Using information that Lu distills from complex fiscal regulations, the three collaborate to create new posts, drawing inspira­tion from manga, anime, topical events, puns, songs, and memes in popular culture. For example, when announ­cing tax reliefs for energy-efficient household appliances, they created a sensation by turning the upcoming Sony PlayStation 5 into a dehumidi­fier. Those who commented on their post had no end of fun inventing excuses for getting this new video game console.

Lu says: “Our aim is for our posts to be widely disseminated, so we have to reach more and more people. If no one interacts with us online, our posts will not get the exposure we want. Without likes, comments and shares, we can’t get the algorithms to work in our favor.” The best way to reach a wide audience is to utilize popular memes and encourage netizens to respond. Wu checks the ministry’s Facebook page all the time, ensuring that not only their posts but also the comments below are full of pep. Even Hong-Kong-based netizens have noticed their sizzling creativity. Wu, who understands some Canton­ese, undertakes to interact with the ministry’s Hong Kong followers on their home turf. “They all marvel at our government being so down to earth.”

An approachable Ministry of Education

Under the name of “Yating,” the social media editors of the Ministry of Education shot to fame overnight with a Facebook post on the new “quasi-public nursery schools.” Modeled on the Japanese manga series Glass Mask, it attracted 23,000 likes.

The editorial role at the MOE was introduced in 2019. The primary aim of their social media campaign is to communicate policies, but they are also responsible for debunking misinformation and sharing stories from the frontline of education, a task emphasized by Pan Wen-chung, minister of education.

In solidarity with international initiatives against bullying, Yating proposed the project “#Your label, my pride” to the minister. Eight Internet celebrities were invited to embroider on school uniforms the abusive labels forced upon them in the past. They then shared their experiences. This was accompanied by interviews with teachers on their efforts to combat bullying at school. More than 80 other Internet celebrities responded to this project, and the series of posts earned 8 million hits.

Yating taps into the popular mind. To help the public understand the 2019 curriculum guidelines, which had been ten years in the making, Yating turned Minis­ter Pan into a manga character. Portrayed as a handsome boy-detective, Pan infiltrates a school in order to investigate who is spreading misinformation about the curriculum guidelines. By using innovative ideas like this to get policies across, government agencies are showing a true willingness to change.

As an educator, Pan cautions Yating against unwittingly violating educational principles or taking part in any form of bullying. He also warns them not to be co-opted by policymaking officials, lest they should lose the ability to speak the language of the people. The MOE has placed a high premium on communicating with the public.

Making antiques speak to us

Did you know that there are more than 4000 people depicted in Along the River During the Qingming Festival? Masters of the art of nonsense, the social media editors of the National Palace Museum (NPM) have exploited this Song-­Dynasty scroll painting to create comic Captain America memes and to convey anti-coronavirus precautions. For the latter purpose, the editors made the painted figures adhere to social distancing by pulling them away from each other. Netizens admire the serious museum’s chummy new persona.

Jewel Lin, who often jokes about being the most “senior” social media editor in Taiwan, didn’t volunteer to do this job. An expert now, at first she didn’t even understand Internet slang such as “8+9” (thugs) and “484” (asking for confirma­tion). Her most popular posts include “Which is your type of New Year’s Eve?” and a collection of slips of paper bearing the comment “under­stood” in the handwriting of eight Qing-Dynasty emperors. Lin has given the museum’s ancient treasures a modern relevance.

The National Palace Museum Shop’s Facebook page also has a large following. The editors there turned a repro­duction of the museum’s Northern-Song lotus-­shaped wine warming bowl into a classy container for instant noodles, to capture the feelings of office workers before and after payday. Sindia Chang, marketing manager and one of the editors for the museum shop, explains that their aim is to raise awareness, their target audience being professionals and culturally engaged people aged 25 to 35. The editors use young people’s language, investing the shop’s cultural merchandise with new creative meanings. They have received a stunningly positive response.

The NPM Southern Branch opened to the public in 2015, in an area that had been something of a cultural desert. Editor Chou I-wen says that the Southern Branch has been making every effort to interact with local residents in order to boost art education and promote equal access to culture. Five years on, local children have become regular visitors to the museum. The seeds of art are germinating.

The NPM’s three fan pages attract different audiences, but as Jewel Lin observes, they actually complement each other.

These social media pages serve as new points of contact between the public and the museum. Feedback from social media users can lead to interesting outcomes. Lin remembers a post promoting the exhibition Rebuilding the Tong-an Ships in 2017. In response to the information about rampant piracy along China’s southeast coast in the late 18th century, netizens wanted to know how people at the time would have identified pirate ships. Lin posed the question to the curator, who replied: “They have been watching Pirates of the Caribbean too much.” Most pirate ships in fact masqueraded as ordinary commercial vessels. Nevertheless the question prompted the curator to furnish new information and replace some objects on display, thus making the exhibition even more approachable.

Bearing witness to government agencies’ efforts to transform the way they communicate with the public, the stories of these social media editors make us feel proud of Taiwan.

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