New study warns of rising gun violence disinformation targeting Chinese community


Disinformation about gun violence circulates mostly unchecked on Chinese language social media, the report from Chinese for Affirmative Action warns.

Mis- and disinformation around gun violence in the US is spreading on Chinese social media, according to a new report from the advocacy group Chinese for Affirmative Action.

The report found 104 individual posts or articles between Jan. 2022 and Dec. 2023 that together amassed more than 2 million views.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, gun ownership has increased among Asian Americans, a group that has had historically low levels of gun ownership and high support for gun control measures,” the report states. “At the same time, disinformation about gun violence circulates mostly unchecked on Chinese language social media.”

The report comes from the Website PiYaoBa (which translates to “Let’s Fact Check It” in Mandarin), part of CAA’s Digital Engagement program aimed at combating right wing disinformation in the Chinese American community.

Playing on cultural fears
The authors identified several themes across the posts it tracked. Some of these parallel talking points often heard in English language discussions around gun rights, including the oft cited, a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy from committing crimes. Or that Democrats are determined to take away Americans’ guns.

“I’m guessing that over 90% of Chinese people don’t understand one thing: open carry allows the good guys to better protect themselves and get more rights; it doesn’t allow the bad guys to run wild,” read one since-deleted post on X (formerly Twitter).

But other narratives are specifically tailored to play on cultural concerns prevalent in Chinese speaking communities. “Whereas English-language messages may draw upon gun ownership as a right or part of one’s American identity, Chinese-language messages exploit people’s fears — whether it be of crime or the Chinese Communist Party — to promote firearms.”

For Chinese immigrants, messages around the threat of rising authoritarianism recall their own experience in a country where political dissent is prohibited, and individual liberty curtailed.

“They have transitioned from political environments characterized by complete disempowerment to a democratic society where gun ownership is not only permitted but permeates American culture,” the report notes. “This stark contrast fuels apprehension and skepticism towards any gun control efforts to revoke individuals’ rights that the government may attempt.”

Another theme seeks to play upon racial fears and stereotypes, specifically linking gun violence to communities of color and the trans community and thereby pitting Chinese Americans against other minority groups.

Other posts warn community members not to rely on police for protection and that gun ownership is the surest way to protect oneself and one’s family.

Numerous studies have found in fact that gun ownership puts family members at higher risk of fatal and non-fatal injury and is also associated with a higher risk of suicide.

Rising rates of gun ownership
Rates of gun ownership within the Asian American community remain far lower (10%) than that of whites (38%), Blacks (24%) and Latinos (20%). But there has been an uptick in the number of Asian Americans purchasing firearms after a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes that began shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to this day.

Asian Americans that have directly experienced racist aggression are more likely to purchase a firearm, the report states.

“More than half (55%) of Asian Americans who purchased a gun since the start of the pandemic were first-time gun owners, according to a 2022 study. Many armed themselves in response to the rise in hate against Asian Americans.”

That same 2022 report also found that many of these new gun owners were storing their guns “unlocked and loaded.”

Asian Americans have also not been immune to rising gun violence in the U.S., both as victims and perpetrators. Recent mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California claimed numerous lives, most of them Asian American. The alleged shooters in both cases were also of Asian descent.

Not surprisingly, PiYaoBa found surges in gun violence disinformation across Chinese language platforms following mass shooting events like those in California.

Prioritizing gun violence prevention
The study’s authors cite over 100 right-wing Chinese language accounts across social media platforms, operated by individuals and organizations, including one, Guo Media, founded by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. The most popular platforms are the Chinese-owned WeChat, as well as X, Telegram and YouTube.

Posts defined as major” disinformation” had accrued at least 2,000 views on the original platform where the disinformation was first observed. On average, each piece of gun violence disinformation had been viewed over 27,650 times.

The authors urge government officials to establish offices that specifically address gun violence and that provide culturally and linguistically appropriate information for the communities they serve.

They also call on gun control advocates to invest more in combating mis- and disinformation within the Asian American community and on community organizations to prioritize gun violence prevention efforts.

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