How disinformation crosses borders; hosting André Brock
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 released last week, 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 diasporas 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.
Publications and appearances
“Through communication, and especially given the affordances of digital and social media that facilitate speaking to narrow slices of the electorate, candidates and campaigns strive to construct and convey the identities of the groups of constituents they seek to represent, including conveying information about the policies they will pursue through the lens of appealing to these particular social groups.” We’re celebrating the publication of Electoral Campaigns, Media, and the New World of Digital Politics, a new edited volume from David Taras and Richard Davis with a chapter from our own Daniel Kreiss and Shannon McGregor on identity and voter alignment in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The entire volume is available open access.
“There was this sort of institutional inertia to admitting that . . . we got something wrong and we didn’t recognize emerging evidence when it was coming out.” Zeynep Tufekci took part in a panel on ventilation and Covid-19 hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“The lack of representation creates problems, including elevating technical skills above subject matter expertise, potential cultural misunderstandings in research design and interpretation and contributing to the notion that data science is an othering lens.” UNC’s The Well covered Deen Freelon’s contributions to a panel on unequal opportunities in data science.
“The interesting thing about the recommendation algorithm is that it’s really difficult to know anything about it from the outside.” Affiliate Becca Lewis described how YouTube creators and users—even kids—can cycle toward increasingly controversial content on the Centre for Media, Democracy, & Technology’s podcast Screen Time.
“New tech? Kind of scary to adults! New tech that KIDS USE that they DON'T UNDERSTAND? *terrifying*” Read that Washington Post story about Facebook paying a PR firm to spread scare stories about TikTok? Alice Marwick offered a quick history of technopanics and how this campaign tapped into our well-established tendency to pathologize young people’s use of new media. NiemanLab also followed up on the implications for local news.
“No amount of disinformation can convince the losing side that they’re winning, or win the battle on the ground for them.” Affiliate Daniel Johnson continues to explain the role of information warfare in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with an article this week in Task & Purpose. If you missed last week’s panel discussion hosted by the UNC Program for Public Discourse, that video is now available.
“If BeReal’s popularity keeps growing, there’s a good chance bigger social media companies might eventually try to replicate its unique characteristics.” Alice Marwick spoke with Bloomberg about the new “casual Instagram” app trending on college campuses.
April 7, 3:30pm: The CITAP spring speaker series continues with a talk from André Brock, author of Distributed Blackness. Register to attend in person or save the livestream link!
April 14-15: The Center for Media Engagement and the Media and Democracy Data Cooperative are hosting the Digital Data Conference. On Day One, Deen Freelon will join a panel conversation on emerging digital data tools, and on Day Two, Meredith Pruden will facilitate a conversation about approaches to data ethics.
April 15: deadline to apply for the Cleary Prize for student research on media law and policy.
April 21, 3:30pm: The CITAP spring speaker series will feature Jonathan Ong. RSVP and livestream links to come.
April 28, 5:30pm: MIT Libraries are hosting an evening with Tressie McMillan Cottom. The event will be hybrid, with a livestream available.
May 1: Deadline to submit nominations for the Nancy Baym Book Award from AoIR.
Rest of Web
While we have no expert insight into March Madness, we could hardly claim roots as a UNC research center if we neglected to mention Saturday’s historic matchup between UNC and Duke in the NCAA men’s Final Four. Tressie McMillan Cottom spoke to Garden & Gun about Coach K’s legacy, while UNC Law students drafted a compelling motion to request a deadline extension in the wake of the matchup: