One of the biggest concerns the study addressed was misinformation spread with the intention of pitting Asian and Black communities against each other.
It noted that misinformation is often spread online and on social media, with several individuals operating under anonymity and claiming to be in spaces with AAPI community members.
But spreading false information about Asian Americans is not the only way these “bad actors” are creating a divide in Black, brown, and Asian communities. Anonymously run social media accounts, vloggers, and alternative news sites are disseminating “powerful shock effect imagery” in the form of CCTV footage, graphic “photographs of bloodied Asian bodies” and fabricated news stories to fearmonger against the Asian American community and drive a wedge between it and other communities of color.
“Don’t fall for it,” said Jonathan Ong, an associate professor of global digital media in the department of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who worked on the study.
Ong said he and his two assistant researchers first noticed how several accounts frequently posted about Black-on-Asian crime during last year’s recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that the goal of these accounts is to perpetuate misleading narratives, including that Black violence is the reason for anti-Asian hate in San Francisco.
Among several examples of troll accounts, the report cites a July 22 post on the anonymously run SF Streets 415 Instagram account, which has 27,000 followers. The post includes horrific close-up photos of a scalp wound, text describing an anti-Asian attack that happened in San Francisco’s Fillmore neighborhood, and a lengthy caption from SF Streets 415 that reads:
“Black juveniles are targeting and violently attacking Asians especially Asian women these days. It’s happening all over the city and the Bay Area and the targets are members of the Asian community. SFSTREETS415 and our twitter page Asian Crime Report are the only ones reporting daily about these anti Asian hate crimes. The media outlets, local and national, refuse to and have zero desire to.”
According to the Asian American Disinformation Table’s report, “conspiratorial narratives that insinuate there is a ‘woke’ liberal conspiracy where Democrat politicians, leftist journalists, and platforms themselves have suppressed the real truth about the roots of Asian hate.”
Noting the increase of white nationalism-motivated crimes, the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that individuals may be spreading these narratives to distort the reality that white people are behind many local hate crimes. The outlet supported its claim by referencing a national report by Janelle Wong, a professor of American and Asian American studies at the University of Maryland at College Park. The report found that white people are largely behind most reported hate crimes across the country.
By changing the data, those spreading it aim to move the AAPI community towards the political right and create mistrust in liberal and democratic-supporting media, the Asian American Disinformation Table’s report said. The disinformation not only pits AAPI people against other marginalized groups but creates a divide within the community itself.
“What disinformation effectively does is dilute the unified possibility of an Asian American bloc,” said report contributor Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the executive director of Equality Labs, a civil rights organization aimed at fighting caste oppression.
As a result of the bloc, collectives are often broken down, rendering Asian Americans less powerful and sustaining white supremacy as a result, NBC News reported.
The report also noted a lack of consistent coverage of Asian American communities in mainstream media, and how that itself makes the group vulnerable to disinformation.
“Asian Americans, they’re more susceptible to this because their access to forms of news is narrowed by language, by what they’re familiar with,” said Pawan Dhingra, the president of the Association for Asian American Studies.
Overall the report reflects on the importance of not only what media we consume, but how we can work to end the spread of misinformation. Writing and reading stories that impact marginalized communities is important. We need to amplify the voices of people of color to ensure white supremacists cannot change the narrative to advance their interests.
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