The bulk of research on mis- and disinformation studies English-language cases and communities—but we know that identity plays an important role in how we consume, interpret, and share information.
In a piece for the HKS Misinformation Review, Sarah Nguyen, Rachel Kuo, Madhavi Reddi, Lan Li, and Rachel Moran summarize some early observations from their work studying how mis- and disinformation spread within Asian diasporas. They also offer recommendations for additional research into how false and misleading information circulates in historically marginalized communities.
They identify four key challenges:
- Understanding historical and political context. Existing frameworks for understanding disinformation may fail to account for how specific historical and geographic contexts play out in Asian diasporic communities.
- Considering transnational networks. Human migration creates complex communities that span borders and share close ties across multiple points of origin and destination. This complexity challenges understanding and observation of information flows across these communities.
- Data access. The popularity of private communication channels (e.g. chat apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, or KaKao) limits researcher data access and raises ethical and logistical challenges to publishing information shared in these spaces.
- Interpretation and translation. Human translation is expensive, but automated translation lacks the contextual understanding this work requires (see challenge #1). Literal or verbatim translations alone limit effective understanding of the messages studied.
Despite these challenges, they share preliminary findings from their research to date:
- In Vietnamese-American communities, viral misinformation painted Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as “communists,” drawing on fears of older generations who understand communist policies as the root cause of their past trauma. In an important generational difference, these fears are less shared by younger Vietnamese Americans who have different relationships to that same history.
- Within the Taiwanese community, issues of China-Taiwan relations and Taiwanese independence dominate the political conversation, extending to participation in U.S. elections based on perceptions of candidates’ stances on the topic.
- Oral histories that pair first- and second-generation Chinese Americans offer a rare glimpse into the news and misinformation that circulate in closed Chinese-language chats on terms that interviewees feel comfortable with.
- Studies of Whatsapp messages show how anti-Muslim messages originating in Hindu nationalist communities in India circulate both within India and abroad. Other research documents how both organizers and scholars who challenge Hindu nationalism abroad face harassment, abuse, and doxxing.
Research into information flows across Asian disporas offers new insights into how trust operates in information systems, the roles of platforms, and much more. These early insights show the promise of qualitative research into mis- and disinformation that take into account questions of history, geopolitics, and power. Going forward, the authors call for additional resources to support this research, especially in collaboration with community groups. They also argue for new frames for evaluating the harm of mis- and disinformation and valuing work by and about non-English speaking audiences.Read the full paper