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Politics & Policy

As Boudin recall vote nears, Chinese Americans battle it out on WeChat

A composite photo of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin (left) and a photo illustration of WeChat (right), a Chinese multi-purpose messaging service. | Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images ; Budrul Chukrut/Getty Images

By clicking on a green logo on their smartphones, millions of Chinese Americans get their daily news and friends’ messages from all around the globe.

But here in San Francisco, WeChat—the social media platform widely used in the Chinese-speaking world—has become a battleground for the information about Chesa Boudin, the district attorney who’s facing a recall election in a few days.

“Before, Chinese (American) people didn't show too much interest in politics,” said Selena Chu, a school board recall activist-turned-DA recall proponent backing Boudin’s ouster through Proposition H. “Now we have WeChat, so we can have those discussions.”

As an information “super-spreader,” Chu has spent the past several weeks sending messages supporting the recall to dozens of group chats. And occasionally, she would get into arguments with Boudin backers.

“You are brainwashed,” one WeChat user wrote in Chinese to Chu. “Chesa Boudin is not my idol, but I think the recall camps are using fake information to mislead the voters.” The user declines to be interviewed for this story.

Joyce Lam, a Chinatown nonprofit activist and an immigrant from Hong Kong, also weighed in on WeChat to combat negative narratives on Boudin.

“I personally believe that Chesa Boudin should stay in office at this time,” she told The Standard. “But I also hope that the Chinese community can have a rational discussion, not just stirring up the fear and emotions in the community.”

Both sides of the recall have spent a significant amount of money on Chinese-language press to promote their agenda. But WeChat—once almost banned by former President Donald Trump—is now surfacing as a new tool to garner Chinese American votes.

One viral article that has been distributed on WeChat is called “Recall organization points out the ‘six sins’ of San Francisco DA.” It’s a paid post sponsored by the committee of “San Franciscans for Public Safety Supporting the Recall of Chesa Boudin” and published by a third-party news account.

The so-called “six sins” include “releasing” crime suspects, being “soft” on lawlessness, and the “chaotic” office management. The recall campaign confirmed they are running paid content on WeChat channels.

“We are doing deep organizing in the Asian American and Chinese community,” recall campaign chair Mary Jung said. “Since proposition H (the recall) is the last item on the ballot, we’re focused on educating as many voters as possible and through channels like WeChat that they are familiar with.”

A simple search on WeChat using the keyword of “Chesa Boudin” or his Chinese name 博徹思, lots of the results are linked to the narratives of “lawlessness” and “crimes.” San Francisco’s crime rates since Boudin took office have been the biggest debate within the recall movement as the pandemic has caused various crimes to fluctuate. 

A San Francisco Chronicle report looked at the complex scenes of crime rates showing that violent crimes are at a historic low, but homicides are still up, while property crimes have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Facing a Chinese-speaking world full of negative impressions, the anti-recall activists are paying attention to WeChat, too.

According to the content provided by the anti-recall campaign, they have shared articles written by Boudin supporters like Henry Der, a prominent civil rights leader, and spread them to the WeChat group messages. Some of the headlines: “Let the facts speak: The crime data analysis in San Francisco” and “SFDA Chesa Boudin is fulfilling his promises to voters,” which cite his hiring of more multilingual staff and “charging more crimes.”

The goal of the outreach is to “create a conversation with users so it's not soundbites”, anti-recall spokesperson Julie Edwards said, and that has brought “a tremendously positive response.”

Han Li can be reached at