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Gun violence misinformation has found a new home on Chinese language social media, report says

About half of the misinfo cited in the report was circulated on WeChat, used by the majority of the Chinese American community.

Growing misinformation about gun violence is permeating Chinese-language social media, a new report shows. 

The report, released Tuesday by the civil rights nonprofit group Chinese for Affirmative Action, pointed to five dominant narratives emerging — largely on WeChat — including the idea that banning guns is a step toward authoritarianism, while gun ownership represents “democracy.” 

Another popular belief the report surfaced is that U.S. law enforcement isn’t obligated to protect people, so gun ownership is a necessary element of self-defense, particularly in an era of anti-Asian hate. 

“We are worried the same tragedies will happen again and again,” said Jinxia Niu, the program manager of CAA’s Chinese digital engagement initiative, speaking about gun violence. 

Researchers identified over 100 widely circulated posts, amassing roughly 2 million views, featuring pro-gun misinformation across several social media platforms. Just under half of the misinformation and disinformation circulated on WeChat, a platform with a feed that includes public posts. An estimated three-quarters of the Chinese American community uses the app, the report said.

The report looked into the spread of gun violence disinformation over 23 months from January 2022 to December 2023. 

Other key narratives found mirror American right-wing conspiracies, such as the idea that gunmen in mass shootings are often Black, people of color or transgendered, and are affiliated with Democrats; that Democrats’ gun control policies have led to increased crime and shootings; and that “good guys with guns” have the ability to prevent crime. 

In some cases, previous experiences with censorship and restrictions of free speech make Chinese Americans vulnerable to such narratives. The belief that gun ownership is an “indicator for freedom,” for example, often stems from criticisms of China’s government, Niu said. Additionally, pro-gun messaging in Western media often warns of the infringement of the Second Amendment and potential dangers of government control, the report says. 

The report also identified a disinformation narrative that places blame on a shooter’s background when the person is a Democrat, Black, transgender or from a marginalized group. 

“In this way, pro-gun advocates pit Chinese-speaking communities against other minority groups,” the report said. 

The report pointed out that while only around 10% of Asian Americans own guns — the lowest across all major races — interest in firearms saw a rise after the start of the pandemic. A 2022 study showed that more than half of Asian Americans who purchased a gun since the start of the pandemic were first-time gun owners. Those who were the target of racism were more likely to buy guns. 

However, research shows that gun ownership correlates with higher rates of violence. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that states with higher rates of gun ownership had “disproportionately large” numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides. A separate 2022 study from Stanford Medicine researchers found that Californians who lived with handgun owners were more than twice as likely to die by homicide.

Researchers of the CAA report urged the U.S. government to establish offices aimed at addressing gun violence and implementing policies in a linguistically and culturally competent way. They also recommended gun-violence prevention advocates to invest in combating disinformation and misinformation in Asian American communities, and that community organizations should prioritize gun violence prevention in their community safety and justice efforts.

“They can’t take for granted that ‘Asians don’t like guns,’” Niu said. “The gun industry is targeting Asians to buy more guns. Things are changing.”