The spreaders of fake news tap into the fears of the Vietnamese refugee community in the US to “control their thoughts” and the consequences of fake news have torn many families apart and led them to take actions that are harmful to the community benefits, a young Vietnamese-born fighter against fake news told VOA.
Over the past few years, especially during the US presidential election last year, a series of fake news channels of Vietnamese people appeared on social networking channels such as YouTube and Facebook every day spreading fake news or distortion about American politics.
Aware of fake news and the harmful effects of fake news on the community, many young Vietnamese have volunteered to participate in information verification and translation work to disseminate official information to the adult Vietnamese community who can’t read English and proned to become victims of fake news.
Ms. Cookie Duong, 23 years old, currently working as a business consultant in Los Angeles, California, is one of these young people. She is the founder and coordinator of Interpreter, which translates mainstream news from English to Vietnamese. The efforts of Cookie Duong and her team have resonated with HBO to make them do a program about fake news, causing YouTube to recently shut down a fake news channel that has been making waves in the Vietnamese community.
“Building healthy communities”
“A lot of people have sent words of encouragement to Cookie and the Interpreters, but also very rude words, but the number is very small compared to the words of encouragement,” Ms. Cookie told VOA from Los Angeles about effects after the HBO show aired.
Cookie Duong says her work and the Interpreter team are totally non-profit to help the community and empower the Vietnamese community to participate in American politics in a healthy way.
The reason she started the Interpreter project in June 2020 was by accident when she got into a violent argument with her father over the Black Lives Matter protest, she said. “I realized that my view on the thorny issues of society is very different from my father’s view. My dad is watching and reading channels that are very different from what I read.”
“When I researched the issue to help me understand my father better, I came across fake news in the Vietnamese community in the US,” Ms. Cookie added.
Starting with her alone, but up to now, Cookie Duong’s Interpreter project has had 60 young people who are collaborators and volunteers specializing in translating news from reliable sources in the American press, she said and described these young people as “very idealistic, very much in love with the community” and also have the same problem as her of “having a family member who is a victim of fake news.”
Her Interpreter team during last year’s election period “had a hard time” because Vietnamese online was flooded with fake news, she said, and now focuses on getting the right coverage of the Covid-19 vaccine as well such as pushing back against biased or racist information.
She said her team didn’t have time to verify all fake news posted on Vietnamese social media channels because they are too many.
“Making stories and distortion”
Ms. Cookie Duong, who came to the US at the age of 11 and graduated with a degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California, also spoke to VOA about the fake news tricks of Vietnamese fake newsmen that she recognized during research.
According to her, the way these fake newsmen often use is to “distort and interpret information according to their intentions to manipulate readers.”
Second, their sources are mainly from right-wing and extremist sites – that is, a small part of the picture to make the audience have a wrong view of the whole picture.
Third, they “fabricated blatant lies, such as ‘Biden conspires with China or conspires with communists,” disguises the image of Obama kneeling before Iran., etc.
She explains why so many Vietnamese people are fascinated to hear and believe fake news as follows: “Due to their refugee heritage, they fled Vietnam to come, so the only way for them to approach politics is to frame everything into communist or non-communist.”
“They [fake news makers] tap into the Vietnamese people’s fear to be able to control them, just as [former President] Trump taps into the white far-right’s fear that our country is they are being invaded by people of color,” she analyzed.
Explaining why so many Vietnamese people still believe in fake news from time to time, even though the information is later proven to be “fake news,” Ms. Duong said: “Very few people are able to admit they are wrong, especially the elderly Vietnamese who are considered wise enough.”
“If the fake news makers have spread the conspiracy theory, no matter which direction the results go, they can still falsify another conspiracy,” she explains.
She affirmed that thanks to taking advantage of the gullibility of many Vietnamese, those who spread fake news “have a lot of profit from the number of views, advertising and sales.”
Harm of fake news
Because information is power, Ms. Cookie Duong believes that the consequences of fake news for the Vietnamese community in the US are “very damaging.” She said “it devastated the community from the inside.”
“Many families have been broken. Many parents are so extreme that they abandon their children, turn their children away, and never speak to their parents again because their parents’ opinions are too horrible for them to continue,” she said.
Regarding the Vietnamese community in general, Ms. Duong said that when Vietnamese people receive false information, “they will go to vote against their own interests and harm their community because they vote for the wrong people who do not represent their interests.”
Regarding the harmful effects of fake news on the US, Ms. Duong said: “Fake news tries to erode trust in American democracy, always connecting something plot with China or with communism.”
She said, young Vietnamese people, when they heard about her Interpreter page, went to the page to get information to send to their parents and they told her that “it is very helpful.”
Cookie Duong said she “doesn’t want to have any impact on people who are already too radical” but “only aims to help those who are still thinking rationally.”
After appearing on HBO, she said her father just said he would watch.
“Cookie’s father knows that no matter what he says, he can’t change Cookie’s mind, so he stopped arguing,” she said. “But from this experience, Cookie parents will be very careful when reading news because they know their daughter is working to fight fake news.”
Regarding the future of the Interpreter project, Cookie Duong said “will continue as long as the community needs to fight fake news” and that in the future “the community will need more direct information verification.”