OpEd/By Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote
Misinformation and disinformation are one of the great challenges facing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities today. They are making our communities less safe, weakening our trust in the election systems, and tearing some families apart.
We saw how mis- and disinformation have impacted both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and it continues to have an impact on issues that are important to our communities, including vaccinations, immigration, and public safety. For example, we have seen disinformation campaigns telling voters the wrong election day, lying that immigration officials are appearing at the polls, claiming voting-by-mail is ripe for fraud, contending schools are indoctrinating students with critical race theory, and more.
Additionally, disinformation is also being used to direct hate towards Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, and to pit communities against each other and against other communities of color – such as claims Chinese Americans are spreading COVID-19 and that Black and brown Americans are the main initiators of anti-Asian Hate. All of these narratives have the real potential to threaten our democratic process, mis-inform voters with non-factual information on which they may base their vote on, and most importantly – cause harm.
These narratives are able to spread easily through AAPI communities because frankly, social media companies are not doing enough to combat the problem. On top of this is the fact that AAPI communities speak over 50 languages, come from various cultural backgrounds, are found across many social media platforms that often utilize closed groups, and non-English content is less likely to be flagged. These all make it hard to monitor, track, and report problematic narratives. As a result, it is also hard to push back with quality information.
Confronting disinformation will require major change; however, it is also important we arm ourselves with the tools to detect disinformation in our own social media feeds so we are able to push back one step at a time. Here are some tips:
Does something you are reading or hearing seem too good to be true? Is it inconsistent with what other sources are saying? Does it invoke an emotional response? Are there other sources discussing this story? Does it appear to be overblown, exaggerated, or lacking in specific evidence? If the answer is yes, these are tell-tale signs that disinformation or another type of problematic narrative might be at play.
When asking ourselves these important questions, one of the most important things one can do if something seems suspicious is to check to see if other reputable sources are covering the narrative or assertion. This may include well-known national news outlets, trusted local news media, government websites, encyclopedias, and non-partisan fact-checking websites.
If you cannot find other reputable sources about what you are researching, check the source of the information! If it appears to be a news outlet or blog, use MediaBiasFactcheck.com or AllSides.com to determine if it is a trustworthy source.
It is important to note that identifying disinformation can be difficult if something appears believable, especially if it already fits into our existing belief system. When consuming any information from a source you are unfamiliar with, or if it does not have any sourcing, ask yourself if this fits too comfortably into your belief system. This allows us to challenge our assumptions and catch us from making the mistake of believing something untrue or misleading.
When coming across disinformation, it is important to not only know how to detect it – but do something about it. If something is false, report it! If you know the person posting it, and they are open to feedback, try kindly and privately speaking with them about your concern and leading them towards factual resources. Doing this prevents public embarrassment and can help them understand the problem with the post. Lastly, never engage with a problematic post; bad actors rely on any type of reaction to spread their message.
Unfortunately, most of us will come across disinformation in our everyday lives. It is an issue that needs to be addressed by social media companies and our elected officials, but with these insights in mind, we hope to confront disinformation head on, one person at a time – and move towards a world where our communities are empowered with good information.
Christine Chen is the co-Founder and Executive Director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote). APIAVote is the nation’s leading nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to engaging, educating, and empowering Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities to strengthen their voices and create impact. For decades, our action-driven organization has led national initiatives to ensure AAPIs are represented and heard.