China’s WeChat Is a Hot New Venue for US Election Misinformation

When Chinese-language misinformation appears on US platforms like YouTube or Facebook, activists say it seems to get less actively moderated than English content, a pattern that has also been documented for other communities in the US that use languages other than English, particularly Spanish. Although Meta and Twitter have both announced efforts to label misleading information in other languages, reports by whistleblowers and in the media suggest, moderation falls short in languages other than English. Elena Hernandez, a spokesperson for YouTube, says the platform’s moderation teams include people with Mandarin and Cantonese expertise. Meta did not respond to a request for comment; Twitter did not comment.

Individuals like More Less, and small grassroots groups, aim to fill in the gaps but have limited resources. More established nonprofits bring heft but often promote liberal causes and can be seen as partisan and biased. Unlike for those working against misinformation distributed in English, there isn’t a ready supply of reporting from trustworthy news sites, fact-checking pages, or government publications to point people to. Non-English publications in the US, which often serve specific ethnic groups, generally don’t have the staff to cover politics in depth.

Misleading political posts in Chinese come from a variety of sources and include viewpoints from the left and right—although researchers report a sharp rise in far-right content since 2020. Well-funded media outlets affiliated with the US far right, such as the GTV Media Group and Epoch Media Group, produce original but hyperpartisan content in Chinese. Other accounts that share misinformation appear to be aimed at monetizing clicks by translating the kind of extreme content that also goes viral in English.

On YouTube, self-styled newscasters have become a core news source for some Chinese speakers in the US, offering political hot takes that often slide into misinformation, says Jenny L., who helps track disinformation and misinformation for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a nonprofit in Washington, DC. She asked that her last name be withheld to avoid online harassment. “It’s pretty easy for them to skirt the minimal moderation YouTube has in place for non-English content,” she says, including by avoiding certain words or using slang terms—for instance a word that sounds like the second character in the Mandarin word for vaccine.

None of the activists WIRED spoke to saw evidence of Chinese government involvement in spreading election misinformation—although the blogger More Less pointed out that some nationalists in China welcome anything that weakens US democracy.

Much like in English, Donald Trump currently dominates much of the US conversation on Chinese-language platforms about politics and the upcoming midterm elections. At a media briefing in September, CAA, the Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities, and APIAVote, a group that tries to involve Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the political process, warned about trending falsehoods.

They included a story circulating on public WeChat channels that claimed the FBI raid to retrieve government documents from Trump’s home in Florida was orchestrated by the Biden administration to help Democrats in the midterms. Some posts had a uniquely Chinese take, comparing the FBI search to unauthorized raids on homes during China’s Cultural Revolution. In response, PiYaoBa published an article in Chinese offering detailed context, corrections to the false information, and links to reliable sources, albeit all in English.

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