SAN FRANCISCO – Today, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) is sounding the alarm in response to the increase of political lies and attacks in the Chinese-language community as we head into the November elections. A new report from CAA, Fake News, Real Consequences: The Growing Threat of Chinese-Language Disinformation, gives insight into the depth and trends of Chinese-language disinformation.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing electorate in the U.S. with the power to shape elections local and national. The 2020 presidential election saw record-breaking turnout by Asian American voters. “Collectively, AAPI voters are shaping elections at historic turnout levels. We are a growing force that can help decide elections,” says Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote, a nonpartisan nonprofit. “But fake narratives are one of the greatest challenges facing our communities and weaken trust in our election systems. We cannot empower our voters if they are disenfranchised with disinformation – the time to tackle this issue is now”
Chinese Americans are the largest Asian community in the U.S. Disinformation fuels harmful narratives within the Chinese-speaking community, targeting individuals who rely on the Chinese-language social media app WeChat. An estimated 60% of Chinese Americans are active on WeChat.
In response to growing mis/information, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) launched its pioneering Chinese Digital Engagement program in 2019 to provide accurate information to the Chinese American community about issues related to social justice such as immigration reform, racial justice, and affirmative action. Its work includes three WeChat channels and the websites JusticePatch.org and PiYaoBa.org. Launched in early 2022, “PiYaoBa” means “let’s fact-check it” in Mandarin Chinese and is the first centralized Chinese-language fact-checking website to combat right-wing disinformation.
“We saw how people were being manipulated by fake news and rumors,” says Vincent Pan, CAA’s Co-Executive Director. “It is imperative that there be trusted sources providing factual information. As a civil rights organization with a long history serving our community, CAA stepped up to fill the need.”
Elaine Peng, President of the Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities, has seen how disinformation can mislead the community. “The conservative right-wing are better organized, and they know how to manipulate the concerns and fears of the Chinese-speaking community,” she says. “It is easy for the community to believe and trust them. The right-wing rely heavily on misinformation and disinformation to advance their conservative agendas. CAA’s Chinese digital engagement work is critical in countering disinformation in the Chinese community.”
The Chinese Digital Engagement team at CAA systematically researches and documents misinformation and disinformation. As detailed in the report, from April 1 to September 15, 2022, the team found 320 major disinformation narratives from 138 different social media accounts and channels. Some examples of the rumors being spread include the false assertion that the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago is a Democratic Party conspiracy to rig the midterm elections. The most popular conspiracy theories push the narrative that election fraud is prevalent, threatening the very foundation of our democracy.
Jinxia Niu, CAA’s Chinese Digital Engagement program manager, warns that Chinese-language mis/disinformation poses an even greater challenge than English-language disinformation because WeChat’s closed nature and censorship makes it difficult to share accurate information.
“Although we monitor disinformation daily and have published more than 900 Chinese-language articles across our WeChat channels and websites, this is not nearly enough — and we can’t do this alone,” Niu says. “The public, policy makers, social media platforms, and community partners need to be aware of the threat of disinformation so that we can address it together.”
Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) was founded in 1969 to protect the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans and to advance multiracial democracy in the United States. Today, CAA is a progressive voice in and on behalf of the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander community. We advocate for systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes language diversity, and remedies racial and social injustice. You can learn more about us at caasf.org.