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Social Media Influencers as Conduits of Knowledge in Australia and Asia

The project

This project is an individual grant hosted at Curtin University, and is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) (Australia), July 2019–June 2022 (DE190100789). The project is also supplemented and extended with support and funding by Curtin University, July 2019–June 2024. Ethics Office approval number HRE2019-0806.

The project aims to evaluate how social media Influencers can become conduits to communicate information among young people between Australia and East Asia. As icons on the internet who are experts in holding attention and amplifying content, Influencers have expanded from being mere commercial enterprises to being conduits of public service information by reaching wide, diverse, and sometimes marginalized youth audiences with important socio-cultural messages. This study will glean lessons from leading Influencer ecologies in East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan), to understand how we can use internet-native communication formats to improve inter-cultural knowledge and relations in Australia.

This study will offer a framework for examining the Influencer industry in Australia based on expert economies in East Asia. Its analysis of young people’s internet cultures will generate new knowledge on how information circulates and is received in innovative communication formats between young Australians and young East Asians. The study informs how young people in Australia can improve their inter-cultural communication skills, how community groups can improve inter-cultural integration, and how businesses and policy makers can partner with Influencers to amplify information. Recent outputs are below.

Social Media Influencers as Conduits of Knowledge in Australia and Asia

COVID-19 and the Influencer industry 

This is a time-sensitive project to archive the role of Influencers during the pandemic, and the survival of Influencer-related social media businesses in the time of COVID-19. The study investigates how Influencers, agencies, and clients in the Influencer industry are coping with growing restrictions and pressures, operating ad hoc contingency plans, and strategising for recovery and growth post-COVID19. The study is focused on Australia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, and aims to contribute to the recovery of social media business in the time of and post-COVID19.

COVID-19, Anti-Asian Racism, and Discursive Activism 

This is a time-sensitive collaborative project with Jing Zeng (University of Zurich) to understand how (diaspora) Asians are coping with racism and xenophobia in the time of COVID-19. 

From the onset of COVID-19, incidents of racism and xenophobia began occurring globally, especially towards people of East Asian appearance and descent. In response, this project investigates how an online Asian community has utilized social media to engage in cathartic expressions, mutual care, and discursive activism amidst the rise of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia during COVID-19. Specifically, we focus on the Facebook group ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ (SAT) that has been a congregational node for (diaspora) Asians since it was launched “as a joke” by 8 Asian-Australian teenagers in September 2018. SAT has rapidly amassed 1.7 million members and become the most successful Facebook group of its kind. In the time of COVID-19, the 1200 new posts it publishes daily have swiftly pivoted to the everyday lived experiences of (diaspora) Asians around the world. By conducting qualitative content analysis and employing grounded theory, we answer the research questions: What issues are (diaspora) Asians facing in light of the rise of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia during COVID-19? How are young (diaspora) Asians engaging in discursive activism on Facebook groups during COVID-19?

K-pop Fandoms, Social Media Manipulation, and Activism

This is an ongoing project that aims to understand the role of K-pop fandoms in information dissemination and suppression, and activist and advocacy causes on social media.

Knowledges on Douyin vs. TikTok: Platforms, Populism, and Performance

This feeder project is an individual research bursary hosted by the Centre for Culture and Technology (CCAT) at Curtin University, and is funded by Tencent (China/Australia), August–December 2019.

Since launching the short video app (短视频) Douyin (抖音) in the Chinese domestic market in September 2016, internet technology company ByteDance (字节跳动) subsequently launched an international version TikTok in September 2017. In November 2017, ByteDance bought over and integrated a predecessor competing short video app, which was first launched in April 2014, and continued to operate Douyin and TikTok as two different platforms for the domestic and international market respectively. Subsequently, Google Trends and international media coverage on Douyin and TikTok soared, as compilations of Douyin posts went viral on YouTube and Facebook, and the international userbase on TikTok grew. In response to public misrecognition and misconception around both apps, this pilot study is focused on reviewing the current pool of knowledge on Douyin and TikTok. Focused on the platforms, the study will employ the walkthrough method to understand the distinctions in features, functions, and user experience of both apps. Focused on populism, the study will conduct a content analysis of mainstream press and popular media articles providing reportage on both apps to understand the discourses pedalled about internet popular culture and ideogeographical politics. Focused on performance, the study will draw from digital ethnography and personal interviews to understand how users of both apps make decisions about the types of content they follow and consume. It is hoped that this pilot study will serve as the foundation for a more extensive survey of the short video app ecology (短视频经济) in East Asia.

The Short Video App Industry in China

This feeder project is a small research grant supported by the MCASI Small Grants  Program 2019, School of Media, Creative Arts & Social Inquiry at Curtin University, October 2019–June 2021 (postponed & extended due to COVID-19). 

Short video apps are the latest digital media format to proliferate on the internet. The format allows users to communicate their message via video, sound, and layover text, emoji, and stickers in clips that are only 15-60 seconds long. This has given rise to innovation around how young people, brands, businesses, and even news networks design their content in order to reach their target audience in a saturated digital media environment. To understand the landscape, ecology, and economy of short video apps, my fieldwork will focus on the biggest international markets in China housed in Beijing and Hangzhou. I will be conducting personal interviews with the tech companies who fund and back these apps, the short video app platforms themselves, influencer incubators and agencies who are experts in grooming and commercializing talent on these apps, and aspiring and current short video app creators. This fieldwork to collect primary data is especially crucial as the short video app ecology is under studied despite the phenomenon having taken off globally since 2016. There are less than a dozen academic and conference papers on major platforms such as TikTok/Douyin, and most of the public knowledge on such apps is limited to popular media coverage and personal opinion blogposts. As such, this research will contribute to foundational peer reviewed research on the phenomenon.

Ongoing research

  • A review of the history of Influencers in Australia, Australian media representations of Influencers, and the impact of social media Influencers on print media.
  • A survey of the culture of Influencer agencies in East Asia, practices of Influencer communications in the Asia Pacific, and the role of East Asian Influencers in building community among East Asian migrants in Australia.
  • A study of inter-cultural communication between East Asians and Australians, working towards a theory of Asia Pacific Influencers, inter-cultural learning, and the generation of attention on the internet.
  • Book on East Asian YouTubers:
    –Slow living at home as a lifestyle
    –Morning/night routines and domestic temporalities
    –Home cafes and ASMR aesthetics
    –Minimalism and consumption-based mindfulness
    –Homemaking and the commodification of coupledom
    –Zakka and performances of taste curation
    –Rurality and telescopic exoticism
    –COVID-19 and repackaging trendability
    –Intercultural language learning and humour
    –Home remaking and youth anomie
    –Elderly influencers and geriatric cuteness
    –Childrearing on cam and broadcast ethos

Fieldwork dates
(continuously updated)

  • July 2019: Hong Kong
  • August 2019: Shanghai, Sydney
  • September 2019: Canberra
  • November 2019: Singapore
  • December 2019: Seoul, Tokyo
  • January 2020: Singapore 
  • February 2020: Beijing, Hangzhou, Shenzhen (COVID19 postponement)
  • March 2020: Milan, Singapore (COVID19 cancellation)
  • Q2 2020: Hong Kong, Melbourne, Shanghai, Sydney, Taipei (COVID19 postponement)
  • Q3 2020: Busan, Osaka, Seoul, Tokyo (COVID19 postponement)

Further information

Curtin University press release here.
Curtin University profile here.
Academic publications here.
Press mentions here.
Industry work here.

The researcher

Dr Crystal Abidin is Associate Professor, Principal Research Fellow, and ARC DECRA Fellow in Internet Studies at Curtin University; Programme Lead of Social Media Pop Cultures at the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University; Associate Investigator at the Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child; and Affiliate Researcher with the Media Management and Transformation Centre at Jönköping University. She is also the Founder of the TikTok Cultures Research Network. From July 2022, she will be Editor-in-Chief of Media International Australia. She is a digital anthropologist and ethnographer of vernacular internet cultures, and researches young people’s relationships with internet celebrity, self-curation, and vulnerability.

Crystal has been studying the Influencer industry in Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Nordic since the late-2000s. She has authored over 70 refereed articles and chapters on various aspects of internet culture, and her books include Internet Celebrity (2018, Emerald Publishing); Microcelebrity Around The Globe (2018, Emerald Publishing); Instagram (2020, Polity Press); Mediated Interfaces (2020, Bloomsbury Academic); and tumblr (2021, Polity Press). Three forthcoming book manuscripts focus on blogshop cultures, influencer cultures, and TikTok youth cultures respectively.

Crystal’s research has won international accolades, with notable awards including being named on The Australian Top 40 Early Career Researchers (2021), ABC TOP 5 Humanities Fellow (2020), the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia (2018) and Pacific Standard 30 Top Thinkers Under 30 (2016) lists, and receiving the ICA Pop Comm Early Career Scholar Prize (2020). I am also the 2021 Isaac Manasseh Meyer Fellow at the Department of Communications and New Media at National University of Singapore.


If you would like to get in touch, please reach Crystal at,, or @wishcrys

This page was last updated on 08 March 2022.