Voting Issues: Election Disinformation and Its Impact on AAPI Voters

The AAPI Caucus will be sharing information on key issues affecting the coming elections that will impact AAPI communities at both the state and federal levels. This month, we explore Election Disinformation and Its Impact on AAPI Voters.

Background

In recent reports (Brennan Center for Justice, Pew Trust, Common Cause, among others), it was noted that 1 in 3 U.S. citizens, and nearly 80% of Republicans still believe that the presidential election was illegitimately stolen from Donald Trump. Mistrust in the voting process has led to the widespread use of targeted disinformation by Republicans and restrictive voting legislation has passed in several states, as well as harassment of election officials. Election disinformation has targeted communities of color, including social media and messaging platforms used by these communities. Researchers have noted that people believe disinformation claims, because they trust the source of the claims.

There are differences in how false narratives are used. Common Cause, in their work on combating voter disinformation, defines these false narratives as Information Disorder and their intersection from falseness to intent to harm:

Disinformation is content that is false (even if it contains some truth) and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization or country.

Misinformation is false information but it is differentiated from disinformation by lacking an intent to harm any person, group or organization.

Malinformation is content that is accurate but is intentionally manipulated to cause harm, including voter suppression or voter confusion.

Disinformation in AAPI Communities

A recent study on research on disinformation across Asian communities noted the difficulties caused by the lack of data disaggregation and the dominance of Anglocentrism in existing disinformation studies, something that is also seen in studies of voting behavior in AAPI populations. It is important to understand that not all issues will affect the entire AAPI community, for example people in communities that have come from communist regimes, legacies of imperialism or with geopolitical concerns.

First generation immigrants with limited English abilities tend to rely on ethnic sources such as YouTube channels, social media as well as other ethnic TV and publications as their primary source of information. Encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram in Vietnamese communities, We Chat in Chinese communities and KakaoTalk in Korean communities also are playing a greater role in these communities and have been increasingly targeted with misinformation that plays to concerns of these communities and messaged in their languages. For example, during the presidential election, Vietnamese communities were targeted with messages that Biden and Harris were communists and were therefore untrustworthy.

Another recent report conducted for the AAPI Victory Alliance Think Tank presented preliminary findings from focus groups of Indian, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans and under 30 AAPI swing voters conducted both in English and in Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese also found similar concerns related to generation, age and non-English proficiency, and their susceptibility to misinformation. It also found that across all ethnic groups and age groups YouTube is seen as a main source of information.

Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote, met with the AAPI Caucus last year to discuss AAPI voter behavior (see her presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KbvrM011Y0). In a recent article, Chen noted that voter disinformation is “making our communities less safe, weakening trust in the election system and tearing some families apart.” Disinformation campaigns are directed to areas of concern with malicious information, such as falsely advising that immigration officials will be at the voting sites and also pitting communities of color against each other, for example blaming Black Americans for perpetuating anti-Asian hate. She also notes several of the same findings as mentioned above, as well as noting that one of the most important thing to do is to check to see if the source is reputable, e.g. through government websites, well-known national news outlets, or to use https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ or https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-news to see if the information is accurate.

One other consistent recommendation regarding voter disinformation is to never engage with the source. Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy program notes “Do not repeat false information, do not share the false post, and do not retweet the false tweet.

Many of these reports have noted the real opportunity for intergenerational exchanges in combating voter disinformation. Building trust is essential in empowering our communities.