January 25, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 82—Misinformation, and immigrants

January marked the swearing in of Joe Biden as 46th president of the United States. But recent surveys by IU researchers have found a significant number of Americans believe false narratives about the validity of the election that he won. Six surveys, conducted by members of IU's Observatory on Social Media, point to the influence of false information posted on social media in the weeks leading up to and immediately after the 2020 presidential election. IU Professor Betsi Grabe says democracy hinges on well-informed citizens to select a president. And in a post-election era, disinformation narratives have the potential to undermine the collective resilience of our nation to rebound on medical, economic and political levels. The survey series tested verifiably false statements posted on social media related to the 2020 presidential election. It found that about 44 percent of participants were aware of unsupported narratives from both sides of the political spectrum, and about 41 percent believed such stories were true. Furthermore, more than 43 percent of respondents believed that vote-counting machines overcounted the Biden votes, and about 49 percent believed mail-in ballots caused voter fraud. The most believed narrative, at 54.9 percent, was that the FBI spied on Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. The survey also shows that those who follow politicians on social media were more likely to be aware of false stories, and more likely by as much as 16 percentage points, to believe those stories. The implications of the research, Grabe says, are dire for the democratic process. The current state of hardship in our country produces favorable conditions for an infodemic, she says. Uncertainty, anxiety, social isolation, economic hardship and spare time create near-perfect circumstances for unsupported narratives to sweep through social media, stifling access to reliable information, deepening doubt about mainstream journalism, and fueling political polarization. Grabe says there is a need for media literacy efforts to help citizens recognize disinformation and for debate on how to regulate disinformation.

In other news, a new study by IUPUI faculty is examining second-generation immigrants from Africa and Asia to better understand the influence of race on their experiences growing up in the United States -- and how those experiences are distinct from African- and Asian-Americans with longer histories in the country. The team will interview students and parents to see how adolescents navigate various markers such as racial identity and cultural identity as well as the influence of those identities on school engagement, teacher expectations, classroom experience, and parental relationships. As a first-generation immigrant from Ghana, IUPUI Professor Eric Kyere says there is a perception of America as a perfect world, a place of freedom. But we know that's not the full story, he says. For most immigrants, especially from Africa, there isn't a complete awareness of the legacies of racism through slavery and colonialism that intersect with immigration to impact racialized minorities. Kyere says immigrants do not understand the strange paradox of a country where opportunity and racial discrimination exist side by side. The result, he says, often complicates immigrant parents' ability to help their children navigate experiences related to racism. Immigrant parents may advise their children to ignore racism or may emphasize the lack of opportunities in their home country rather than acknowledge their children's struggles in the U.S. IUPUI faculty Jessica Euna Lee, a second-generation Asian American, says the dynamics are also complex and undertheorized. This is partly due to limited perceptions of Asian Americans that do not account for heterogeneity among subgroups. Lee says there's a stereotype of Asian Americans as 'model minorities,' but this story does not reflect all Asians and their migration histories. As a result, educators might place expectations on these students or their families that may overlook their needs or fail to recognize their unique strengths. Lee and Kyere say their goal is to get insights from their work into the hands of educators to ensure their interactions with diverse immigrants are more productive and culturally sensitive.