Less than a week after election day, a table entitled "Battling Asian American Misinformation" was published in progressive Asian American social media circles, particularly among Vietnamese and Chinese ancestors.
The most popular YouTube channels listed in the table have amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers where experts talk about misleading allegations of election fraud, Hunter Biden's relationship with China (a conspiracy spread by pro-Trump personalities) and the meddling the Chinese Communist Party to the EU discussed presidential election. Under some of these clips, YouTube included a label informing viewers that the Associated Press had scheduled the election for Joe Biden. That little disclaimer aside, most of the channels were still monetized and still easy to discover. Tagging on YouTube, as some soon realized, meant doing nothing.
The elections may be over, but the tough battle against online misinformation, especially within first-generation immigrant communities, continues.
According to CNN's poll on the exit, Biden won the majority of voters from Asia, America and the Pacific Islands in those presidential elections – 61 percent of AAPI voters supported Biden, while 34 percent supported President Donald Trump. However, if Democrats want to maintain a significant head start, especially within certain ethnic groups where democratic support has waned, they must address the growing problem of native language misinformation, according to grassroots organizers and community activists.
Because with the disaggregation of voter data – which only a few non-Asian electoral organizations and publications do – the political tendencies of this population group are more complex and less predictable than one might think. A quarter of AAPI voters identify as independent, and as more people become naturalized citizens each cycle, Democrats and Republicans have a new list of voters to court them.
Data from the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey showed that of the six ethnic groups surveyed, only Vietnamese Americans were more supportive of Trump (48 percent) than Biden (36 percent). However, when taking into account polls dating back to 2012, the data suggests that Republicans' margins, while still in the minority, are increasing. While some Asian experts have suggested that AAPI voters could be deterred by Trump's harsh xenophobic language (which was reflected in anti-Asian sentiments), polls suggest that a not insignificant minority of voters not only tolerate it but embrace the rhetoric has joined in addition to widespread conspiracy theories.
Progressive Asian-American organizers say misinformation online, particularly regarding the Democrats and President-Elect, has helped expose Asian American voters to more radical right-wing views since 2016. First-generation immigrants who have a controversial history with China and communist governments – such as those of Cambodia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Laos – are more vulnerable to the false claims Trump made about China and its alleged impact on the elections and the "socialist" Tendencies of the Democratic Party.
Non-partisan organizations like APIAVote are also concerned about the vulnerability of voters with limited English proficiency to disinformation about the voting process. Some resented the reliability of postal ballot papers, the safety of voters in elections, and whether their ballot papers would be counted if they voted for certain candidates.
"During this election cycle, we have been involved in a larger network of community organizations to make sure we fight against disinformation about the electoral process," Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote, told Vox. "It found that certain communities were more vulnerable and targeted as the information was translated into their language and posted on WeChat or Facebook."
The organization and its community partners do not expect the flow of fake news to wane after the elections. These campaigns may have a future impact on how Asian Americans participate and vote in upcoming elections, including the Georgia Senate runoff, which could determine whether Biden will be able to push his agenda through.
Misinformation campaigns can be difficult to understand due to the language and platform diversity of the AAPI community
The AAPI community is the fastest growing electorate in the US, according to the Pew Research Center, growing from 4.6 million in 2000 to 11.1 million in 2020. However, the categorization of "Asian American and Pacific Islander" is broad and vague and seldom is used as self-identification. Most of these voters, especially first-generation immigrants who come from different cultural, economic and religious backgrounds with different political histories and sensitivities, show little political solidarity. Put simply, the Asian-American electorate is overwhelmingly diverse.
Different ethnic groups communicate and receive messages on a variety of chat and social media platforms beyond the tech giants of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram popular with English-speaking voters. With the AAPI umbrella representing voters from more than 30 different ethnic groups and languages, it is difficult to track misinformation campaigns within these communities.
For example, Chinese Americans from mainland China use WeChat, while those from Taiwan and Hong Kong use Line and WhatsApp, respectively. Korean Americans have KakaoTalk, mostly Vietnamese Americans Rely on Facebook and a lot of Indian Americans use WhatsApp. Meanwhile, many immigrants with limited English language skills naturally gravitate towards native-speaking media – television, radio, and print media – produced in the United States or from their home country, and may have their own individual biases.
"I don't know if there is a liberal Korean newspaper in America," said Jeong Park, a reporter who previously covered the Asian-American community for the Orange County Register. In the run-up to the election, Park noted that Korea Daily, the largest US newspaper serving Korean Americans, began producing videos alleging election fraud and corruption within the Biden family, which garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
"Korean newspapers tend to be moderate to conservative and work to boost business class voices, but I'm pretty alarmed by how many views these videos are," he said.
Many Korean Americans also watch videos of Korean Conservative YouTubers who also spent some of their time promoting Hunter Biden's scandal / conspiracy theory: https://t.co/ze5aRVqGdV
– Jeong Park (@ JeongPark52) November 5, 2020
The same dynamic exists with Vietnamese media in the US, according to volunteers from Viet Fact Check, a project of the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT). "In our own efforts to raise awareness among our community, we have been rejected or blocked by the Vietnamese-language press for fear of offending advertisers or the readership," said Nick Nguyen, the group's research director. "The same pay-for-eyeballs phenomenon on the internet is happening here too."
Concerns about the Epoch Times' media empire coincided among most Asian American organizers speaking to Vox – including subsidiaries such as New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD TV) and China Uncensored, which owns 1.29 million and 1.48 million YouTube, respectively – have subscribers. This is a conservative estimate of the Epoch Times' reach. The affiliates have separate YouTube channels and Facebook pages in multiple languages with hundreds of thousands of followers or subscribers. These sites use a "sophisticated translation operation," as one activist described, to post articles and videos on Facebook and YouTube with an anti-China tendency.
Because misinformation professionals and researchers typically specialize in one language or platform, there is little research into how this phenomenon affects AAPI voters as a whole. However, groups like APIAVote believe that misinformation will be a recurring tactic in future elections.
"We work with community-based organizations that are present on each of these platforms," said Chen. "Based on what we've seen in the African American and Latin American communities, these types of fear-based attacks also affect our ethnic communities."
How overlapping information networks can fuel false narratives
The types of false stories Asian Americans encounter online are not entirely different from misleading English or Spanish language media. Some voters are already avid viewers and readers of One America News, Newsmax, or Fox News, and viewing content in their native language may only confirm existing beliefs.
"The core of this tactic is based on people's feelings of insecurity and fear by misinterpreting certain guidelines or outcomes," said Sunny Shao of AAPI Data, who conducted research on social media rhetoric, WeChat, and Sino-American voter behavior . "Sometimes it can be outright misinformation, but often there is a cultural twist."
"Sometimes it can be outright misinformation, but often there is a cultural twist."
Inaccurate or inaccurate news about the results of the presidential elections is generally based on similar reports circulated on some conservative English channels and in the English language Sites like Breitbart and the Daily Caller: that voting fraud is a widespread topic in the US or that Beijing prefers Biden. Some content also fuel racial tension by exploiting prejudice against black people, given the images of the protests against Black Lives Matter this summer and the “scarcity” situation of some immigrants. These biased narratives are usually over-simplified and presented without nuance, making them easy to digest for an audience with limited English and cultural context.
Some unsubstantiated claims, like the one that Biden is a radical socialist, are not targeted at any particular community, as Shirin Ghaffary of Recode reported. Yet they are resonating with Latin American and Asian immigrants who distrust the communist governments, whose suspicions can lead them to information echo chambers that further cement these conspiratorial beliefs.
Research shows that people are more likely to trust information that comes from sources they are familiar with – friends, family members, or members of their cultural community on Facebook groups, YouTube channels, or Instagram pages. As a result, peer-to-peer sharing is driving the spread of closed chat groups on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. And the misinformation doesn't come from a single source: those networks of information can overlap and, according to anecdotes from community members, first-generation immigrants could be influenced by perceptions of US politics in their home country.
For example, analysis of American politics from Taiwan, which has taken a proactive stance against domestic disinformation, was largely in Trump's favor, said Rath Wang, communications director for Taiwan’s Americans for Progress. While the Taiwanese government has not officially endorsed a presidential candidate, its media ecosystem is still distorted. Pre-election polls by YouGov found Taiwan to be the only one of 15 European and Asian states where citizens prefer Trump over Biden.
Several prominent Chinese dissidents have also spread the message that Republicans and Donald Trump are the only ones who can prevent China from politically invading Taiwan, Wang added. It doesn't help that most Americans traditionally group the Chinese diaspora under the umbrella of “Chinese American,” which overlooks the geopolitical complexity of the population. Immigrant voters who still have ties to their home country are deeply interested in foreign policy, and that generalization "ignores the political diversity of the community," Wang said.
A similar development can be seen in Vietnam, whose state media are predominantly in favor of Trump. There the Epoch Times – under the name Dai Ky Nguyen – developed an experimental network of pro-Trump and anti-China sites that soon became one of the largest Facebook publishers in the country. The New York Times described the operation as "a Vietnamese experiment," and the Vietnam team was reportedly tapped to set up the US arm of the Epoch Times' operation in 2017. This misinformation network has become a "right-wing media force" The New York Times reported and commanded tens of millions of social media followers on Facebook and Youtube spread across dozen of English and foreign language sites.
"Many channels like The Epoch Times are super spreaders of misinformation, and their Facebook or YouTube presence does not tell where they are from," said Deanna Tran, director of the Viet Fact Check. "It's shared on multiple platforms at the same time, and then it's added to our community and makes it appear indigenous, when in fact there may be some outside influence."
"It's shared on multiple platforms at the same time, and then it's included in our community and makes it look like it's local."
Misinformation can also be community-specific and vary by region or ethnic enclave. In early November, ProPublica reported that at least two dozen groups on WeChat had spread misinformation about how the federal government was preparing to mobilize to scare Chinese voters to stay home in the event of election day riot. Reuters also reported that several bipartisan South Asian groups worked together to correct false news about the voting process on WhatsApp, an unmoderated and decentralized chat service.
"It's not that we just have a WeChat or WhatsApp problem. These platforms are accelerators," said Vincent Pan, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-founder of Asian Americans Against Trump, who is familiar with misinformation about WeChat "It accelerates many weaknesses that Chinese and other Asian immigrants with limited English skills have. They live in scarcity, under enormous social and economic pressure and insecurity."
"Meet the community wherever you are": organizers are calling for support from social media platforms and political parties
While the potential for misinformation on these platforms is known, efforts to contain the spread are primarily thanks to grassroots organizers within these ethnic communities. These efforts also vary by ethnic group. It is the job of community members not only to find and report fake news, but to actively debunk these allegations and become an accurate, neutral news source – often with little staff and financial support.
According to Pan, the non-English social media landscape is usually homogeneous and acts as an island echo chamber with little factual verification. "There is not the same balance in terms of political balance or racial and ethnic balance," he said. "Our priority is to meet the community where it is."
This “data gap” also occurs in the Latino community, as Vox & # 39; Ghaffary reported: “In the US there are only two major Spanish-speaking broadcast news networks: Univision and Telemundo. This leaves room for media operations – not just on the Internet, but also via local radio stations and newspapers – to disseminate less accurate reports, ”said a Spanish misinformation researcher.
While there are accurate and impartial sources of information in Asian languages, there are few and their online presence cannot compete with viral posts with an inflammatory or biased bias. "The news discipline in conservative media is amazing," said Nguyen of Viet Fact Check. "Think about the juggernauts we are facing and there are no progressive alternative voices in the Vietnamese media. For ourselves, we are just trying to keep a very neutral and fact-based tone."
But platforms also have a responsibility to curb the spread of non-English misinformation, added Nguyen, as this phenomenon is no longer unique to the English-speaking population. While Facebook has announced that it is taking steps to curb any misinformation related to the vote count, similar content remains accessible on YouTube and is gaining traction. A researcher told Recode that YouTube does not appear to be actively promoting such content, which is "a little hard to find," but it is possible that the platform's moderation focus is less strictly on foreign language misinformation about US elections.
Viet Fact Check, a volunteer-run group, attempted to register as an independent fact checker on Facebook but faced obstacles in the process of verification. "I'm sure we are the number 1 neutral to progressive Vietnamese source in the US verifying the facts," said Nguyen. "And while Facebook has been trying to mobilize third-party fact-checking groups, we're not technically a media organization. We're all volunteers."
This basic work is neither sufficient nor sustainable. Organizers say Democrats must commit to reaching and budgeting translation services to reach these historically overlooked communities. "The Democratic Party needs to recognize that there are certain political sensitivities within the Asian American umbrella," said Wang of Taiwanese Americans for Progress. "It is crucial for Taiwanese Americans that candidates express their support for Taiwan. … With Trump speaking so loudly about China, many believe he will take action to support Taiwan."
"The Democratic Party must recognize that there are certain political sensitivities within the Asian-American umbrella."
It's also a matter of trust. About half of the AAPI voters in the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey have not been contacted by a large party, which is a huge missed opportunity, according to Shao, the researcher at AAPI Data. Bags of Asian American voters live in battlefield states and can be a determining factor in racing in Congress or in legislation.
There are both cultural and linguistic barriers that prevent people from breaking the misinformation trap. For example, many first generation immigrants lack bourgeois knowledge of how elections work and therefore rely on community-driven translated content that may not always apply. So a direct approach from political parties and candidates could make a difference in how those voters perceive certain policies and elections. Regional or local government work is required to disaggregate and unravel the myth of the “AAPI voter” and its diverse interests.
"We ran Asian-language ads and direct mail in four to five different swing states against Republicans at risk," said Pan of Asian Americans Against Trump. "The parties and candidates didn't do it themselves, and it was too frustrating to sit and watch our communities go the wrong way."
In late October, Bloomberg reported that Asian American voters could "play a crucial role" in turning Georgia blue, with Indian Americans being the largest Asian ethnic group in the state. With the Senate's runoff race coming up in January in January, the AAPI vote is similarly coveted. These voters could be crucial in influencing elections in low-margin races, Pan added, and politicians – at the regional, state, and national levels – should focus on investing and redistributing more resources.
"We found that we couldn't always count on Facebook's protection or the support of a national party," Pan said. "We have to organize."
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