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Second-Generation Americans: What to Do When Loved Ones Are Sharing Misinformation

Don’t get into a political argument. Talk about misinformation instead

Lam Thuy Vo

Dec 15, 2023

Illustration of a young Asian woman holding an umbrella while walking with an older Asian woman; both are being shielded by falling exclamation points and YouTube thumbnails

Illustration by Allison Vu

This article was copublished with The Markup, a nonprofit, investigative newsroom that challenges technology to serve the public good. Sign up for its newsletters here.

Earlier this year a friend of mine, who is a second-generation Vietnamese American, told me she stopped talking to her mother. She was becoming more and more frustrated because her mother, an immigrant from Vietnam, kept bringing up pro-Trump conspiracy theories and had adopted racist views on immigrants.

Politics and social issues have been causing rifts between loved ones across generations for years. Whether it’s about former president Donald Trump, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Israel–Hamas war, familial conflicts are exacerbated and sometimes even caused by the different ways people consume information on social platforms.

These disputes have hit Vietnamese immigrant families especially hard because of misinformation that’s passed around, according to researchers at the University of Washington and Duke University.

Earlier this year, The Markup reported on a Vietnamese immigrant community in the U.S. whose information needs have not been met by mainstream media. Many in the community have turned to YouTube or Facebook for their news, and as a result they often watched translations of far-right outlets like Breitbart and Newsmax.

As a part of our reporting, The Markup spoke to Vietnamese community members in the San Francisco Bay Area about how and where they consumed news. We also consulted with misinformation experts—including those who focus on Asian communities—to understand what people can do to help loved ones identify misinformation and find better-quality information online.

This guide below focuses on tips for second-generation Americans, but it can be helpful for anyone who wants to have productive conversations with their loved ones about misinformation.

Don’t get into a political argument. Talk about misinformation instead

While you might have the urge to launch into a full-on debate over a piece of misinformation a loved one is amplifying, multiple resources suggest that it’s less helpful to argue about political issues and much more productive to help friends and family establish a clear understanding of how misinformation works and who may be using it to target certain communities.

In a report from 2022, the Asian American Disinformation Table said that Asians in the U.S. represent a voting bloc that has a sizable influence over election outcomes in swing states. Nick Nguyen, a volunteer with the nonprofit Viet Fact Check, suggested that, when confronting a family member who’s been susceptible to misinformation, you can explain how it’s been used to destabilize the U.S. from within, and that a lot of misinformation designed to create racial disharmony is actually seeded by state actors like Russia.

Since many Vietnamese immigrants came to the U.S. as refugees or political asylees, Nguyen said, helping them understand state actors’ role in fomenting racial discord in the U.S. can allow them to relate to the larger problem and be more open to learning about misinformation.

Use metaphors (like food) to help explain social media algorithms

Many immigrants receive a lot of their news and information from social media. Several Vietnamese community members told The Markup that after they finish watching a YouTube video, they’ll keep watching videos that are algorithmically recommended to them. Researchers also believe that algorithmic recommendations play a big role in how people consume news, and that such recommendations can lead people down a hyperpartisan rabbit hole.

It can be helpful to explain to friends and family that algorithmic selection usually favors videos that elicit extreme reactions, and that it’s important to balance one’s media diet, much like it’s important to balance one’s actual diet.

When speaking with members of the Vietnamese community in the Bay Area, I used food to help me explain: If people were to only consume the equivalent of information that they already liked—or only eat desserts like the one pictured below (known as chè ba màu)—then they might not have the information that lets them make decisions in their best self-interest. Choosing less sensational or extreme news—the equivalent of a meal with vegetables and protein—would help Vietnamese folks make much better-informed decisions about multiple facets of their lives.

A slide from the Vietnamese misinformation workshop

Build a list of news outlets they trust

A key part of feeling more equipped and less overwhelmed in a sea of information is to have a list of news outlets and other organizations that you have vetted and trust. Charlotte Maher, an investigative journalist and social media editor at Bellingcat, told The Markup that it’s important for people to build a relationship with news sources to better understand their coverage and how they handle mistakes in their reporting. You could help your loved ones by looking for quality news outlets together. For example, if a family member mostly watches YouTube, recommend that they subscribe to the channels of reputable institutions, such as the Voice of America’s Vietnamese-language service.

Being part of an immigrant community also presents a particular challenge: the language barrier. Many immigrants get their news about the U.S. from abroad because it’s presented in their native tongue. Finding trustworthy local news in their language can be nearly impossible. Help your loved ones find and look at older, more established mainstream organizations that also publish in their language. For the Vietnamese community, you can look at the BBC or Người Việt, one of the oldest Vietnamese-language newspapers published in the U.S.

International: 

National: 

Use tech to overcome language barriers

If your loved one’s English is limited, you can help them download and use the Google Translate app on their phone; the app can translate text that is either pasted in or captured in an image taken with the phone’s camera. If your relative or friend uses a computer to access news, consider installing the Google Translate extension for them (here’s the extension’s link on Chrome and Firefox). The translations are imperfect, but they can help your loved ones access important local news when they need it.

Find nonprofits that have the information they need

Several Vietnamese community members I spoke with told The Markup that they need more information about health care and government programs. If you hear something similar from a loved one, you can search for information on local nonprofits that may serve your specific community. For instance, the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay and Asian Health Services, both based in Oakland, are there for the Vietnamese community in the Bay Area. If you’re visiting your family for the holidays, you can consider gifting them a subscription to a local news organization that covers local politics and issues well.

More resources

The suggestions above were first developed and prototyped as a workshop for 70 to 80 Vietnamese community members whom The Markup interviewed for our stories on the languages of misinformation. If you would like to use the materials in a workshop setting or just present some visuals to your family members, you can find that by clicking here. Here also are some links to organizations that work to mitigate misinformation in Asian communities: 

From Viet Fact Check:

A few organizations working on misinformation in other Asian communities:

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