Social media sites like WeChat, WhatsApp KakaoTalk, and Line are especially popular among Asian American users. These apps have proven to be successful because of the free services they provide in connecting families within the United States and across the globe. Calls that used to cost money are now free texts; messages are sent easily and instantaneously. But with this new accessibility also comes some new pitfalls.
While Facebook and Twitter took steps to label and limit posts containing misinformation, no such scrutiny has been applied to Asian-based apps and non-English content.
On HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver noted the troubling trend of misinformation that so easily spreads among immigrant families. A bulk of users live outside of the U.S. or in non-English-speaking communities, he said. And though they find their feeds filled with conspiracy posts, there are little to no flags or disclaimers by tech companies.
Nearly one in six Asian Americans say they go on social media sites like WeChat, WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, and Line to discuss politics, granting the sites considerable influence within Asian American communities. The issue is that such messaging apps have the potential to devolve into echo chambers where only one perspective is considered.
A 2020 study by the Pew Research Center also found that nearly one in five American adults who get their news primarily from social media are more likely to have heard about false or unproven claims than those who get their news from other sources. This means that users are less concerned about the dangers and consequences of made-up news, the study concluded.
Kinza Chaudhry, a registered dietitian in Washington, D.C., told PBS NewsHour that inaccurate health advice is often circulated among different chat groups on WhatsApp. She said, “These generalized chain messages are spreading a lot of misinformation. I don’t know if any of this data is ever being tracked and if people are going to the hospital,” because they followed faulty information.
Consequently, young, progressive Asian Americans have taken it upon themselves to combat the spread of false information within their communities and families.
The Chinese-based app, WeChat, had also proved to be a cesspool of misinformation. During the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased attacks against members of the AAPI community, the app allegedly spewed anti-Black rhetoric, highly racialized and controversial issues, and other topics that were often misconstrued or downright inaccurate.
Sunnie Liu, one of the co-founders of the WeChat Project, an initiative dedicated to fact-checking information and expanding limited narratives, told Prism, “We’re trying to bring these leftist, progressive points of view to WeChat, and in doing that we’re finding that we’re reaching not just people who are first-generation or our parents’ ages. We’ve expanded our work into English-language social media too, as we’ve realized the power of social media in general for bringing these progressive ideas to people and to start conversations.”
But despite information campaigns and new regulations in place to report and flag content, the casual and intimate nature of messaging groups makes users all the more vulnerable to falsehoods.
“Political messaging operations use these services to spread disinformation about opponents and groups, which has led to violence,” Joan Donovan, a former researcher at Data & Society, told NBC News in 2018. “Because the messages tend to come from trusted sources… it presents a new challenge for stopping the influence of disinformation on the public.”
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