This is the third briefing in a new project documenting anti-Asian hate on Facebook and Instagram. This project is being conducted in partnership with Meta’s Australian office and the Race Discrimination Team at the Australian Human Rights Commission.
This briefing focuses on anti-Asian hate on Instagram that relates to food and other attacks on Asian culture. We present examples, some still online, and have a poll where for each example you can tell us if it should be removed. This is followed by discussion on the way food and culture are being used to promote anti-Asian hate.
The first Instagram post spoofs a restaurant logo and spreads the likely false notion that the pandemic was onset by the consumption of bats. The tag line “So good, it’s contagious” suggests added culpability for serving food when the restaurant knowns it could cause a pandemic. The hash tag #chinesevirus further adds to the narrative that it is Chinese people, their culture, and their way of life that caused the problem. We have notified Meta about this item, for now it is still online, and further discussions are planned.
The second example promotes the idea that Chinese people are, because of their culture, unclean and spreaders of disease. “China,” the image reads, “[s]top eating everything that moves.” The post is accompanied by hashtags including #chinesevirus, #diseasepreaders, #diseased, #dirtychina, #filthy, and #gross. We notified Meta of this item and it has now been removed.
The third example suggests the consumption of bats, bugs, and insects is common in China, in fact so common you could expect it at McDonalds as the text in the me says. It refers to it as “ethnic cuisine” in the accompany text, suggesting this is not about China but about Chinese culture and the Chinese people. The post is tagged with the hashtags #chineseflu, #kungflu, #wuhanflu, and #batsoup. The term #kungflu is widely seen as a racist slur to demean Asians. The hashtag #chineseflu promotes the idea in the previous meme that Chinese people are dirty or spreaders of disease. The poster also added the hashtag #offensivememes signalling an awareness that their post was racist. We have discussed this item with Meta, and will discuss it with them further, but for now the item remains online.
Another post, featuring a photo of the bat signal from Batman and the text “When dinner is ready in China”. It also uses hashtags #bateaters and #mfbateaters. Two comments in reply (from the same person) call it out for racism. It remains online and we will discuss it further with Meta.
The final example in this briefing features a meme we first saw in 2012 on Facebook. It is a blatantly racist meme suggesting Asians eat pets. We have two examples of it which we have discussed with Meta, both remain online and we will be discussing them further.
The first is accompanied by the hashtag #dogeaters, in case the image wasn’t clear enough on its own, along with the hashtag #itsokimasian asserting the poster is Asian and it is therefore ok. There is no exemption in the policy for people to post content that spreads hate against their own community. The second example includes the hashtag #wuhanflu and #asianhumor. The image appears online at least 791 times on different websites (including 18 times on reddit.com).
Discussion: How food and culture are used to promote hate
From the onset of the pandemic, racist attacks sought to blame Asian culture for the spread of the virus. This goes back to older racist and xenophobic ideas presenting Asians and particularly Chinese as “dirty” or “spreaders of disease”. These racist ideas are expressed as stereotypes and pejorative statements that assert all Asian people eat wild and exotic animals, as well as animals that in Western culture are not consumed as food.
As OHPI has explored in the past, the ideas underlying these memes are gross exaggerations. What they depicted as mainstream Asian culture is often far from mainstream across Asia, and often far from mainstream even within particular countries or regions. It is certainly a long way from the diet of people from Asia, or with Asian heritage, who are living here in Australia and who face the brunt of these abusive messages when spread by other Australians.
A particular focus of these narrative since the pandemic started has been bats, and particularly bat soup. The link between COVID in humans and similar viruses found in bats suggests the pandemic may have been caused by a virus moving to humans from infected bats. This doesn’t mean it happened through consumption of bats, and that scenario is deemed highly unlikely. Despite this, racist memes around bat soup and eating bats became ubiquitous.
It hasn’t been helped by the spread of misinformation. One viral video claimed to be of a Chinese person eating bat soup In Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, turned out to instead be a video taken years earlier in Micronesia by Wang Mengyun, a Chinese influencer and host of an online travel show. This video has been cited as the origin of the idea the virus spread to humans via bat soup.
Instead of fuelling racism, differences in food culture can be presented as a positive, an expression of local culture that visitors can explore. The fruit bats in Micronesia, for example, are farmed (i.e. they are not wild bats) and they are eaten as a treat on the smaller Islands and promoted to tourists. In Australia we have our exotic foods too, as the BBC explored when they looked at eating Witchetty Grubs and Honey Ants. That doesn’t mean all Indigenous people eat them (ever, never mind regularly) and to suggest all Australians live on a diet of Witchetty Grubs would be absurd. We have enough trouble with the British mistakenly believing we all drink Fosters. The ideas expressed about Asians or Chinese people are equally absurd.
Want to know more about this project and our work on anti-Asian hate? This is the third briefing in this project. Our first briefing explained the project. Our second briefing examined anti-Asian hate on Facebook. This project follows our earlier work on COVID and Online Hate, including a report we submitted to the Victorian Parliament to support of an inquiry into anti-vilification laws.
Support for this project
This project is led by the Online Hate Prevention Institute, directed by our CEO Dr Andre Oboler, and overseen by the OHPI Board of Directors. The Race Discrimination Team at the Australian Human Rights Commission and Meta’s Australian office are partners in the project and providing valuable advise and assistance.
The project is made possible thanks to a donation from Meta (in the US), we are grateful for this support and for the manner in which it was provided which helps to ensures our work remains independent. Additional work is made possible donations from the public.
Feedback and support
You can provide additional feedback on this briefing by commenting on this Facebook post. Your comments on whether the content that currently remains online should / should not be removed are particularly welcome.
You can also assist us by sharing this post on social media and directly with individuals and community groups within the Asian-Australian community. Donations to support an expansion of the work, and reports of online anti-Asian hate you see are also greatly appreciated.
This briefing was written by Osiris Parikh (Senior Analyst) and Dr Andre Oboler (CEO), with support of other OHPI staff.