UMass Amherst Team Receives $129,000 NSF Grant to Develop Digital Infrastructure for Monitoring Racially Targeted Misinformation

Team led by Jonathan Corpus Ong will use NSF Convergence Accelerator Grant to develop culturally appropriate interventions alongside Asian American and Pacific Islander community organizations

AMHERST, Mass. – An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has received a $129,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator grant for their work on a multi-institutional project that will investigate racially targeted misinformation and develop culturally appropriate interventions alongside Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community organizations.

Jonathan Corpus Ong
Jonathan Corpus Ong

The UMass Amherst team, led by project co-PI Jonathan Corpus Ong, associate professor of global digital media, will lead the ethnography and customer discovery aspects of the project, which aims to build capacity of AAPI organizations in response to the networked harassment and hate crimes that their communities have experienced over the past year. The project, “Fact-checker, Academic, and Community Collaboration Tools: Combating Hate, Abuse, and Misinformation with Minority-led Partnerships (FACT CHAMP),” will streamline and facilitate collaboration of fact-checkers, NGOs, researchers and community leaders. FACT CHAMP will allow practitioners and community leaders to share misinformation data and research challenges securely with academics, while at the same time allowing academic solutions to be more easily used in practice.

Technology non-profit Meedan will lead the project which, in addition to the team from UMass Amherst, is composed of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Connecticut, AuCoDe and

“This project reflects deeply on how Asian-American communities are attracted to right-wing ideology and might be prone to radicalization,” Ong says. “I find it essential to conduct more interdisciplinary research into how AAPI community members navigate the diverse threats of the contemporary digital environment, from racist conspiracy theories to an extremist right-wing ideology that preys on the AAPI community’s current state of fear and anxiety. What are new memetic expressions of the model minority myth on the internet? What are the popular vernaculars, ethnolinguistic codes and cultural humor that right-wing influencers use to appeal to their followers while evading platforms' content moderation? These are challenging questions that require more data, more deliberation, and more community engaged research.”

Joining Ong on the UMass Amherst FACT CHAMP team are Ethan Zuckerman, associate professor of public policy, communication and information and computer sciences, Wayne Xu, assistant professor of communication, and Brendan O’Connor, associate professor of information and computer sciences.

“Computational methods tell us where to dig to understand misinformation and hate speech, but we need ethnographic methods to understand what we dig up,” says Zuckerman, who will lead community engagement and outreach initiatives, including interfacing with community leaders, technology specialists and journalists. “Our ability to bring both quantitative and ethnographic methods to the table makes our UMass team unusually qualified to make progress on these issues alongside our colleagues on this grant.”

Xu and O’Connor will contribute their computational social science expertise to developing algorithms useful for researchers, activists and community leaders in detecting hate speech. They will work closely with the team at AuCoDe to craft innovative detection methods that are also sufficiently grounded in communities’ own needs and priorities.

“Fact-checking should begin with listening and understanding why people believe in mis/disinformation,” Xu says. “I hope this project will improve our current fact-checking effort by treating fact-checking not as an arbitrator of truth but as a humble opportunity to explore various cultural, political and spiritual origins of mis/disinformation, which are unique to communities of ethnic minorities.”

“I look forward to seeing how important recent advances in computational social science and natural language processing could be used to better understand and improve the human-centric methods that our partners use to address these problems,” O’Connor adds.

“For me, this project feels very urgent, as it is really an intervention that engages with the tragedies that have spurred the #StopAsianHate movement,” Ong says. “It is important to know the histories of dangerous racist stereotypes and how they are expressed and exchanged in new platforms to advance an insidious agenda.”

Launched in 2019, the NSF Convergence Accelerator builds upon basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal impact. Using convergence research fundamentals and integration of innovation processes, the program brings together multiple disciplines, expertise, and cross-cutting partnerships to solve national-scale societal challenges.