Assistant professor of marketing researching racism toward U.S. Asians over social media

Racism and violence aimed toward Asians is rising in American life, fed by a toxic fuel of bias, hate and misinformation on social media.

portrait of Sanga Song

Sanga Song, assistant professor of marketing for the IU East School of Business and Economics, is leading a research project, “Understanding the Anti-Asian Social Media Content and Intervention Strategies.”
Song received a Racial Justice Research Fund grant from the IU Vice President for Research and the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs for the project.

In fact, it’s believed that nearly a third of adults in the United States blame Asians for the current pandemic that has affected almost every area of our daily life.

The subject often is a deep and dark one in the American web world, something that deserves in-depth research. One obvious reason is there are approximately 20 million people of Asian and Pacific Island descent who are American citizens.

Many of them are shocked. Many are scared. Many even fear the return of past horrors, such as those caused by internment camps during World War II.

Why has the problem re-emerged and how can it be addressed and possibly mitigated?

“It’s a topic worth investigating,” says Sanga Song, an assistant professor of marketing for the School of Business and Economics at Indiana University East.

She will be doing just that after recently winning a grant for nearly $15,000 from the Racial Justice Research Fund as lead investigator for the multi-disciplinary project that began November 1.

The study is titled ” Understanding the Anti-Asian Social Media Content and Intervention Strategies.”

With help from many other researchers, Song expects to conduct interviews and experiments with 400 subjects, then present results at conferences and through journals next year.

Indiana University announced the creation of the Racial Justice Research Fund in June. The announcement explained it is designed to provide 25 grants each year of up to $15,000 as startup support for faculty who are researching racial equality and justice.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, hatred and xenophobia toward Asians, as a manifestation of fear and frustration, have been on the rise,” Song wrote in her proposal, which was submitted in August.
“This multidisciplinary research will be done in collaboration with various experts, including business, communication, and computer science and engineering.”

Song has mainly conducted research on how new technology and digital media have changed the way people live and communicate, adopting theories and models from social science and information technology.

She is grateful for the funding. “(It) will allow our research team to identify racially charged social media content and develop possible intervention strategies to minimize the harmful effects of such divisive conversations.”

portrait of Hyejin Kim

Hyejin Kim, an assistant professor of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago. She is a co-lead investigator of the research project.

She further explains that the grant “will also allow me to continue to pursue my long-term goal of advancing interdisciplinary research on equality, diversity and inclusion.”

Hyejin Kim, an assistant professor of communication at DePaul University in Chicago, is the co-lead investigator of the project that will include “working with various social media data analysts from the computer science field.”

The complex subject is especially timely now, a growing barrage of hate crimes on the streets and by racist ideology expressed on social media toward Asian Americans. Here are some examples that are easily found online:

  1. Terms like “Chinese Virus” and “The Kung Flu” have become common in online forums that often reach thousands of people.
  2. A poll done in April by Ipsos — a world-respected market researcher — found that three in 10 Americans blamed China or Chinese people for the virus.
  3. In late March, Judy Chu, a U.S. Representative from California, told The Hill she believed 100 hate crimes were committed every day against Asian Americans. Examples include the stabbing of three Chinese-Americans in Texas and the beating of a 16-year-old that put him in the hospital after fellow students accused him of having the virus.

The stigmatization, the racial tension and the violence are raising fears and hurting longstanding efforts toward diversity and inclusiveness in American life. “(The) current stay-at-home policies have contributed to worsening the phenomenon, as people heavily rely on social media to maintain social connections and gather timely information,” Song said in her proposal, citing many sources. “Social media users are more susceptible than ever to divisive and biased communications, which leads them to consume, exchange, and engage with such content, creating emotionally charged misperceptions.”

In her proposal, she suggests a stronger focus on: “the ‘gray area’ of content, which refers to user-driven electronic word-of-mouth comments that contains inappropriate, divisive, offensive, or biased information.”

Song joined the faculty of the School of Business and Economics in the fall of 2018. She earned her Ph.D. in Retail Merchandising and Consumer Studies at the University of Minnesota.

In her proposal, Song writes: “this project aims to (1) classify the characteristics of anti-Asian eWOM (electronic word-of-mouth) content; (2) examine the social, psychological, and cognitive determinants that influence recipients’ acceptance and dissemination of such content; (3) discover the potential negative consequences resulting from content exposure and processing; and (4) explore intervention strategies that prevent the indiscriminate acceptance and spread of such content.”