“There’s a joke among Asian Americans that people think we all look the same,” Washington Post homepage editor Doris Truong wrote on Thursday afternoon. “That joke became my own personal Pizzagate late Wednesday.”
Truong was referring to a rash of harassment she’d received after some people saw what appeared to be a woman of Asian descent taking photos of secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson’s notes after his Senate confirmation hearing. Truong was not at the hearing—as a homepage editor, she’s not in the habit of reporting from the Capitol Building—but some self-appointed investigators must have combed lists of U.S. journalists for Asian women and decided to name Truong responsible.
Right-wing blog Gateway Pundit, among others, erroneously reported that a “sick WaPo reporter” was “caught sneaking photos” at the former ExxonMobil CEO’s hearing. Sarah Palin tweeted out the false information, too.
There was not a single piece of evidence linking Truong to the video of the woman or the hearing itself. The only way bloggers or pundits could have connected the two is this: They looked for the first or most prominent female journalist of Asian descent they could find, and they pretended, without making any effort to find the truth, that she was guilty of wrongdoing. That’s pretty close to the definition of libel, an offense the president-elect has said he wants to make easier to prosecute.
The building wave of baseless accusation resulted in sustained harassment against Truong, including racial slurs on Twitter. (It cannot be said enough: Twitter is the world’s best medium for viral harassment and the lifeblood of targeted campaigns against innocent individuals.) Truong wrote that trolls have contacted her on every available channel and called her a Chinese spy in the two days since someone tweeted that clip from the hearing:
By the time I woke up, trolls had commented on social media channels besides Twitter. My Facebook feed had dozens of angry messages from people I didn’t know, as did comments on my Instagram account. Even my rarely used YouTube channel attracted attention. My emails and my voicemail included messages calling me “pathetic” and a “sneaky thief.” A lot of the comments also focused on my Chinese heritage, implying—or outright stating—that I must be spying for China. Some called for an FBI investigation of what they deemed illegal behavior.
Other Asian-American journalists, including InsideClimate’s Lisa Song and writer-photographer Leslie Hsu Oh, have also been targeted by right-wing trolls making believe that they are the woman in the video clip.
Truong’s invocation of Pizzagate was apt. In that absurd, manufactured scandal, right-wingers and white nationalists convinced a small corner of the internet that a D.C. pizza place was a haven for a pedophilic rape ring with clients in the upper echelons of the Democratic party. Homophobic harassment and death threats from the alt-right plagued random pizza servers and members of bands. Thanks in part to the low bar of Twitter’s harassment policy, members of marginalized groups—Asian-American women at news outlets; drag queen bartenders who work at pizza places—will inevitably bear the brunt of the alt-right’s ongoing misinformation campaigns.