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Asian American Voters Face Misinformation Campaigns


Exit polls from the general election can give us a better look at how Americans voted. One of the most diverse voting blocs was Asian Americans, with a swath of spoken languages and networks of information. And while the cultures may vary, one thing ties them together when it comes to elections - misinformation. Terry Nguyen is a reporter at Vox, and she wrote about misinformation in the Asian American community and how it affected voting this year.

Thanks for joining us.

TERRY NGUYEN: Thank you for having me.

ELLIOTT: First, let's talk a little bit about just what is the Asian American voting bloc. And who did you focus on in your reporting?

NGUYEN: So according to, you know, exit polling, a majority - 61% of Asian American voters supported Biden, and 34% backed President Trump. Asian Americans are the voting group that's fastest-growing in the next couple of years. And there's a constant stream of people entering the country and becoming citizens, which means Democrats and Republicans can both court them. In terms of the groups that I focused on, I am Vietnamese American, so a lot of my reporting came from my knowledge of that community. But I also spoke to folks from the Chinese diaspora, from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korean Americans and Indian Americans as well.

ELLIOTT: So we talked about how misinformation was the tie that binds. What did you find about misinformation that was out there? What did it sound like?

NGUYEN: The difficult thing about Asian American misinformation is that it is a cross-platform phenomenon because not all Asian Americans use the same communication platform. So, for example, many are on Facebook. Many use YouTube and Twitter. But there's also platforms like WeChat, WhatsApp and LINE. And that, you know, varies depending on the ethnic group.

ELLIOTT: Can you give me a few specific examples of the kind of misinformation that's out there?

NGUYEN: Yeah. There was reporting on South Asian communities who thought that if they voted for a certain candidate, their vote might not get counted. Similarly, in the Vietnamese community, there's been a lot of misinformation about Biden being a radical socialist and implementing authoritarian policies, which is not true at all.

ELLIOTT: Why is it that certain messages seem to really resonate with certain communities?

NGUYEN: So one thing that I've noticed - a thread that's similar between certain Asian American voters and even Latino voters is those who have experienced communism, especially first-generation immigrants or those who have a contentious history with China - so those from countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and from places like Taiwan and Hong Kong - they are very much worried about the impact of the election regards to China and the sort of red-baiting that's been happening among the Republican Party. Although Trump and a lot of Republican politicians are aiming their socialist messaging towards a broad swath of the American public, these messages resonate more among these communities because they've kind of experienced this type of government firsthand.

ELLIOTT: So who is targeting them? Who's spreading all the misinformation?

NGUYEN: Some of this information is translated from, say, Breitbart or The Daily Caller or other alt-right media networks. But the organizers I spoke to were also concerned about native entities. Some of this is from The Epoch Times, which is kind of a larger misinformation network. Folks also said they were worried about GNews, which is a site founded by a Chinese billionaire who has close ties with Steve Bannon and the alt-right. And some native-language media just generally carries its own individual biases.

ELLIOTT: So what's being done to track the misinformation and disrupt it? How is that going?

NGUYEN: A lot of this work is done at the grassroots volunteer level. The organizers I spoke to say that certain concerns, certain misinformation about voting, for example, happens at a regional level. And so the organizers are primarily trying to meet the community on these platforms and just spreading information that is accurate and nonbiased. I do know for the Vietnamese American community, they have launched something called Viet Fact Check. And they are on the popular English platforms - Facebook, Instagram - and are trying to kind of combat misinformation in both languages, English and Vietnamese.

ELLIOTT: Now, you note at the end of your piece for Vox that Asian Americans are showing to be a really strong force in the suburbs of Atlanta, specifically Gwinnett County, where there's a big population of Indian Americans. Now, I would think that those voters could play a role in the upcoming runoffs for the two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia. What do you think that campaigns and organizers need to be understanding about the Asian American vote in order to mobilize it?

NGUYEN: I think national campaigns - not even national - even regional and state could recognize that voter outreach could be a very significant long-term investment. A lot of these folks just have never been contacted by campaigns or any organizer knocking on their door to talk about what policies that they're enacting. And so a lack of outreach has really made the community feel very politically insulated. But I do think it's important for more investments and more outreach overall.

ELLIOTT: Terry Nguyen is a reporter at Vox.

Thanks so much for being with us.

NGUYEN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.