Identity and Online Advocacy

#StopAsianHate: Facebook and Instagram aid in advocacy and the development of Asian identity


Social networking sites have evolved the way individuals can perform their identities and participate in online advocacy. This conference paper uses the #StopAsianHate movement, which was created after the rise in discriminatory actions against Asian individuals after the Covid-19 outbreak, to analyse how the affordances on Facebook and Instagram have facilitated the spread of community messages worldwide. Specifically, how these platforms are able to create a third space for individuals to participate in discussions that they otherwise unable to. The process looks at how Asian individuals can perform and strengthen elements of their identity by participating in the movement through affective publics.

Keywords: Covid-19, Facebook, Instagram, Identity, Community

Individuals that identify as Asian have had to endure an increased amount of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia after the spread of the Coronavirus disease. The Coronavirus disease, otherwise known as Covid-19, is a case of “viral pneumonia” that was first discovered in the People’s Republic of China (World Health Organisation, 2020). Due to the outbreak beginning in an Asian country, individuals worldwide were quick to begin criticising members of the Asian community. In response to the rise in violent and discriminatory actions, numerous individuals have taken to Facebook and Instagram to combat the increased prejudice towards Asian individuals. Through the process of using the affordances provided by these social media platforms, it has also allowed Asian individuals to perform their identity that they may not have been able to in other areas of their lives. Therefore, people of Asian ancestral identity have been able to use Facebook and Instagram to advocate and promote the anti-Asian hate movement and further develop their identities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Social networking sites have allowed a third space to form for Asian descendants to perform their identity. According to Oldenburg and Brissett (1982), a third place is a forum that enables individuals to experience what they cannot in their home and workplace. The third place creates a new area for individuals to be involved in social experiences and relationships that they would not be able to otherwise. Possibly their workplace and or home, now becoming a place of predictability. Therefore, to avoid upsetting the balance there, the individual cannot meet their needs for more diverse discussions; they feel as though a part of their identity is missing. Therefore, social networking sites allow for individuals to connect with others that share an experience or concern about feeling different from those around them – creating a community.

The idea of what a community is has evolved alongside technological developments. Traditionally, the idea of what a community consisted of was one that was solely based around geographical boundaries. However, through the development of new technologies emerged a new ideology surrounding the ‘parts’ that make a community. Bradshaw (2008) provides a working definition of what a community is in this era of time. He explains that community is no longer about the geographical ties between individuals, but the social relations that occur between individuals. Hence, the development of new technologies, such as social networking sites, have opened up the opportunity of a third space for individuals.

Facebook and Instagram are examples of social networking sites that have become the third space for many Asian individuals. Third place characteristics are that it is available and accessible every day for the individual to form relationships with other members that they otherwise could not have (Oldenburg & Brissett, 1982). Facebook and Instagram are both available for users at any time and provide a means for relationships to develop that otherwise could not without it. Both social media platforms reduce the geographical barriers that may restrict individuals from meeting and discuss their similarities. Therefore, allowing individuals’ collaboration to occur around the world, rather than being geographically bound to discussing with those physically around them. They may be unable to do if the individual feels that they do not share the similar trait they want to discuss.

Asians and mixed-race individuals’ identity can be complex due to the increased fluidity of choosing between racial boundaries. According to Blake (2019), those with multiple ethnic and racial ancestry have to manage multiple identities. With that, multiple elements come with those identities.  These racial identities are “contextually fluid,” meaning that the way an individual identifies to a race depends on several factors (Jiménez, 2004, as cited in Blake, 2019, p. 139). These factors can include their appearance as well as how an individual identifies. For example, an individual whose ethnicity is Asian and appears to have physical Asian characteristics may identify as being more westernised due to the environment that they have grown up in.

Furthermore, Goffman (1959) argues that individuals are comparable with performers who alter their identities based on who they are ‘performing’; our identities are formed and evolve through the interactions we have with others. Identities have multiple elements that can contribute to making a single ‘performed’ identity. According to Owens et al. (2010, p. 479), some of the elements that make up an individual’s identity are their “category-based identity,” “group membership-based identity,” and “role-based identity.” This means that those of Asian descent are considered to have a fluid and/or fragmented identity.

Category-based identity and group membership-based identity are formed on how individuals perceive themselves to those around them, including similarities and differences (Owens et al., 2010). An example would be that due to the individual’s physical characteristics, they may be categorised as Asian because they share similar traits to other people that have been identified as Asian. Group membership-based identity is the identity that has been reinforced through interactions with people that share the same category-based identity (Owens et al., 2010). Therefore, Facebook and Instagram have reduced the barrier for individuals to build their group membership-based identity. They provided a third space for Asian individuals to reinforce their cultural heritage. For example, on Facebook, a group founded by Asian-Australian university students known as “Subtle Asian Traits” has over 1.7 million members across the globe (Abidin & Zeng, 2020, p. 1). This group aimed to create a space where members of the Asian community could come together to share relatable experiences that other individuals in their home or workplace may not have understood. Subtle Asian Traits created a space that allowed Asians to perform a fragment of their identity that they may have repressed around others.

Individuals have since used Subtle Asian Traits on Facebook and the affordances provided on Instagram to fight against the rising racism against the Asian community. Mineo (2021) explains in her article that anti-Asian racism can be traced back to 1871 in the United States, so there has been a rise in discrimination and violent acts towards Asian-Americans, the racism and xenophobia against Asians has sadly always been a part of America’s history. However, Hswen et al. (2021) have studied the relationship between Donald Trump calling Covid-19 the ‘Chinese virus’ with the rise in anti-Asian opinions of public members and found a strong correlation. Since the comments, the ever-growing cases of Covid-19, and the deaths that have resulted, multiple physical acts of violence have occurred against Asian-Americans. This increased aggression towards the Asian community has led to a movement known as “Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Hate,” created by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and the Asian-American Studies Department of San Francisco State University as a way to advocate for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (Stop AAPI Hate, n.d.). Stop AAPI Hate has since created a Facebook page and Instagram profile to share their resources and any information regarding the movement.

Though the Stop AAPI Hate movement was initially created due to the increased aggression towards Asian individuals in America, it has since spread worldwide. This is because Asian individuals living in countries outside of America, have also reported a rise in prejudice and discrimination since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Roberto et al. (2020) have found that within Australia at least a quarter of recent attacks against Asian-Australians has been due to Covid-19. They report that Asian-Australians have been physically attacked, verbally attacked and refused entry into certain businesses. Therefore, because of their category-based identity (physical appearance), Asian-Australians have faced a rise in discrimination and also seek out third spaces like Subtle Asian Traits, to perform a part of their identity that has been repressed due to the discrimination that could unfold.

It is through the use of Facebook and Instagram that movements like Stop AAPI Hate has been able to spread globally. One of the contributing factors to this advocacy promotion is through Asian celebrities, influencers, and high-ranking individuals coming forward to share the stories, of their own hardships as well as shining a light on others, and information on their social media platforms. Facebook and Instagram affordances allow these individuals of Asian ancestral identity to construct the narratives of their identity on the platform. According to Barassi (2018), individuals can use these platforms to present and create a highly political fragment of their identity. This is done by curating what the individual posts on their profile, commenting and interacting with other users, and what they share. These interactions create a narrative of their ‘political self’ and the identification of a political community. This is also an example of role-identity, the internalised identity that has formed due to taking on a role within a relationship with at least one other person (McCall & Simmons, 1966, as cited in Owens, 2010, p. 479). An individual may also sustain multiple roles through their lifetime, sometimes simultaneously depending on the situation. However, like Goffman’s argument, McCall and Simmons (1966, as cited in Owens, 2010, p. 481) also argue that an individual will decide which role-identity they will choose to perform depending on who they are performing to. In the context of this situation, one could argue that the act of promoting their content to their viewers allows them to perform their political identity, because the context they are actively performing in is one of a political nature. Therefore, through online advocacy, individuals’ identities will alter as who and why they are ‘performing’ changes.

Facebook and Instagram have also facilitated the creation of affective publics. Affective publics are created through the interconnected sentiments made by individuals online (Papacharissi & Trevey, 2018). An affective public allows for the production of disruption in a political narrative that results through connective action. This means that the affective public’s identity can also appear to be fragmented due to it being created through the collective narrative of multiple individuals involved in the public. For example, the Stop AAPI Hate social media profile can be seen as having a single political identity. However, it is likely run by multiple individuals. Simultaneously, individuals that have commented on or liked any posts the organisation has shared have performed their political identity – showing their membership to the community.

The affordance that has had a beneficial impact towards creating global communities across the globe, on Facebook and Instagram, is hashtags. Hashtags are used on social media platforms to categorize and index posts created by individuals based on the topic (Xiong et al., 2019). According to Xiong et al. (2019), individuals have begun using hashtags as a way to spread and interact in what academics call ‘hashtag activism.’ This form of activism is an example of participatory culture, which Jenkins and Deuze (2008) explain as the cultivation of opportunities available for individuals to create a connection with one another through their interactions online. The use of hashtags allows individuals a segue into strengthening their group membership-based identity. This is because individuals who participate in hashtags, especially those around advocacy topics, have joined a group of people who also identify with that topic. In the case of the anti-Asian hate movement, one of the more prominent hashtags circulating the web is ‘#stopAsianhate.’ Many Asian individuals around the globe have used the hashtag to share the stories of their experiences with experiencing racism. They distribute resources on the movement and continually show their support and membership within the global Asian community.

The creation of social media platforms has allowed for the facilitation of advocacy movements around the world. The affordances that they have provided not only created and strengthened global communities but has allowed for individuals, especially those of Asian descent, to strengthen and/or perform a fragment of their identity that they otherwise could not have in other areas of their lives. With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, the racism and xenophobia that is faced by the Asian community continue. However, through the affordances that Facebook and Instagram have provided, it will be interesting to see just how much further the anti-Asian hate movement can contribute to creating new communities and strengthening current ones.


Abidin, C., & Zeng, J. (2020). Feeling Asian Together: Coping With #COVIDRacism on Subtle Asian Traits. Social Media + Society, 6(3), 1-5.

Barassi, V. (2018). Social media activism, self-representation, and the construction of political biographies. In G. Meikle (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Media and Activism (1st ed., pp. 142-150). Routledge.   

Blake, M. K. (2019). Self and group racial/ethnic identification among emerging adults. Emerging Adulthood7(2), 138-149.  

Bradshaw, T. K. (2008). The post-place community: Contributions to the debate about the definition of community. Community Development39(1), 5-16.  

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life (p. 56). London: Harmondsworth.

Hswen, Y., Xu, X., Hing, A., Hawkins, J. B., Brownstein, J. S., & Gee, G. C. (2021). Association of “#covid19” Versus “#chinesevirus” With Anti-Asian Sentiments on Twitter: March 9–23, 2020. American Journal of Public Health, (0), e1-e9.

Jenkins, H., & Deuze, M. (2008). Convergence culture. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14(1), 5-12.

Mineo. L. (2021). The scapegoating of Asian Americans. The Harvard Gazette.

Oldenburg, R., & Brissett, D. (1982). The third place. Qualitative Sociology, 5(4), 265-284.  

Owens, T., Robinson, D., & Smith-Lovin, L. (2010). Three Faces of Identity. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 477-499.  

Papacharissi, Z., & Trevey, M. T. (2018). Affective publics and windows of opportunity: Social media and the potential for social change. In G. Meikle (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Media and Activism (1st ed., pp. 142-150). Routledge.  

Roberto, K. J., Johnson, A. F., & Rauhaus, B. M. (2020). Stigmatization and prejudice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 42(3), 364-378.

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21 thoughts on “#StopAsianHate: Facebook and Instagram aid in advocacy and the development of Asian identity

  1. Hey Terina!
    Well done on this paper, it is very well written and structured. I really enjoyed reading it, particularly the section where you mention the studies of the ‘relationship between Donald Trump calling Covid-19 the ‘Chinese virus’ with the rise in anti-Asian opinions of public members and found a strong correlation.’ You then mention how this created negative attitudes towards Asian people.

    Do you believe that it was social networking sites that escalated and magnified this belief?

    1. Hi Chloe,

      Thank you so much 🙂

      Yes, I do believe that SNS have escalated and may have contributed to this belief. Hswen et al. (2021) actually did an analysis with Twitter and found that half of the tweets related to Covid-19 actually used the hashtag “Chinese virus”, which as we know is associated with Trump. Thus, demonstrating that social media sites do have the ability to magnify the belief.

      Hswen, Y., Xu, X., Hing, A., Hawkins, J. B., Brownstein, J. S., & Gee, G. C. (2021). Association of “#covid19” Versus “#chinesevirus” With Anti-Asian Sentiments on Twitter: March 9–23, 2020. American Journal of Public Health, (0), e1-e9.

  2. Hi Terina,

    Your paper was very well written and researched I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I have never considered the extent of this problem and can’t say that as a young white women I have seen much of or heard about much of this issue. I am aware of the increase towards this problem since the start of the pandemic with many uneducated people blaming the Chinese for what happened without knowing any facts about the matter especially after Donald Trumps announcement.

    I have some questions regarding your paper such as do you believe that there is an effective way to educate people about Asian hate as to try to help decrease the issue? Do you also think that having groups on social media for these communities is enough to help and strengthen them or should they be taking more action?

    Your paper was compelling and it is an issue I will definitely be looking out for more on my social media and in my everyday life.

    1. Hi Jasmine,

      Thank you so much for the kind feedback!

      I’m not quite sure what can be considered the most effective, but I do feel like we can definitely reduce racism from occurring by continuously educating ourselves on matters and the next generation. According to Golby et al. studies have found that as kids when we are first born, we do have a natural preference of race as those that we and our parents are, and we may consider other faces that do not match those in our knowledge as threats. However, exposure from a young age reduces the threat that we may perceive. Therefore, I think the best cause of action is honestly to expose ourselves and make the effort to learn about other cultures, allowing us to appreciate our own as well.

      I think that social media definitely assists in strengthening the ties in the communities and it is a means to facilitate more action.

      Golby, Alexandra., Gabrieli, John., Chiao, Joan., & Eberhardt, Jennifer. (2001). Differential fusiform responses to same- and other-race faces. Nature neuroscience., 4: 845-50.

  3. Hi Terina!

    I think your outline of what the “third space” is really helps to form your argument, as your explanation of the development of this space in alignment with technological developments is very logical, clear, and well-constructed.

    I have to raise the question that, whilst you acknowledge the ability of Asian communities to spread the Stop AAPI Hate message, what are your thoughts of the usage of the same platforms to issue racist messages against the Asian community? Furthermore, the coverage of COVID-19 in the media can be partly to blame for the rise in Asian Hate crimes, so do you think that countering the media with other media is working effectively?

    You’ve done a really good job!

    1. Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for the comment :))

      To address your first question, I guess, , I’ve come to the point where I accept that social media will have individuals from both sides. It’s sad to see some of the racist comments but at the same time it does provide the opportunity for a discussion to occur and an opportunity to educate and alter their opinions.

      I think one of the first things I’ve learned through this degree is that sadly most news outlets are privately funded and therefore have an agenda in the way they report on stories. So, though it may not be ideal, I feel like social media provides a space where there is an opportunity for the collective to showcase both perspectives of what is going on in the world.

  4. Hi Terina,

    Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram has been widely used by the communities to stay connected with one another. Your paper has provided another good example of how social media was used by movements such as #StopAsianHate and Stop AAPI Hate to fight against the discrimination and racism against the Asian communities during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

    Thanks for your sharing.

    I believe social media platforms can also be used in many other campaigns or activities to project the good image of the community.

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Elaine,

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I totally agree – social media platforms do have the power and affordances to be used for other campaigns to project the positive image of a community. However, with that I guess you could also say that it also presents the opportunity for the opposite (negative images) to be portrayed too.

  5. Hey Terina,

    I loved your paper. As a white person, I am not well versed when it comes to this, so I am so thankful that you gave me the opportunity to familiarise myself with this topic through an important lens.

    During the early days of the pandemic, I was unfriending acquaintances from high school and distant family members left, right and centre. The internet is a powerful tool in fuelling hate but also has the ability to bring marginalised communities together (on that note read my paper it’s really good

    Relating to how the internet can fuel hate and bring together minorities, my question is do these third places have enough power to quash the ignorance circulating in our society if mobilised correctly?

    Have an awesome day, Connor 🙂

    1. Hey Connor,

      Thanks so much for the feedback! It’s great to read that you’ve learned something new 🙂

      I don’t have a definitive answer to whether or not third places have the power to completely quash the ignorance circulating in our society. Especially when I feel as though with every third place for one cause there will be another one formed for its counter argument/movement. However, I believe that third places provide the opportunity for important discussions to occur that assist in reducing the ignorance in our society. As the sharing of stories and experiences allows for new perspectives and an opportunity to educate ourselves more on topical issues.

      Hope you have an amazing day too :))

      1. Hey Terina,

        I love your point about what is the actual point of a third place, allowing these conversations to extend is a really great way to spread consciousness to these issues and minorities. I think this conference is a really great example of how this can be done, you talking about Subtle Asian Traits and me talking about Transgender representation on TikTok has spread that consciousness to places that may not normally hear them.
        Next target: Mainstream Media. Haha.

        Thank you so much!

  6. Hi Terina!
    Your paper provides a very good insight to a relevant topic in todays society, it so unfortunate to read all the hate that is towards Chinese people when covid was at its highest. Coming from a Chinese and Malaysian background, it always frustrating to see naive and uneducated comments that people throw out on social platforms. I love your examples of the Facebook groups such as SAT as I am a member and have seen the change from starting off as a comical relief for most, to some what of a political stance and creating awareness for others.

    Your elaboration on hashtags I found very interesting and the comment ” individuals have begun using hashtags as a way to spread and interact in what academics call ‘hashtag activism.” I always knew that has tagging was an important step in order to reach a bigger interaction, I forgot how prominent it can be when creating awareness for an issue. Racism and hatred towards Asian people have always been in society, however, could you say because of social media, (especially with COVID) it has increased the racism because it gives a voice for anyone to comment? because of trolling and meme culture it has actually increased Asian Hate as well as decreasing it?

    Well done! Really well written.


    1. Hi Tamlyn,

      Thank you for your response.

      I definitely do believe that when a movement for something occurs, there will always be a counterargument/countermovement formed. Poth (2019), further supports this as in her discussion she explains that whenever a hashtag appeared for a movement, another one was formed for its counterargument. This led to a competition of which movement had the right message, but also allowed for more exposure.

      Poth, C. N. (2019). From Hashtags to Hate Groups: How Social Movements Strategize on Twitter? [Master’s thesis, University of West Georgia] ProQuest.

  7. Hi Terina!

    Very interesting read with a lot of interesting topics covered! I particularly liked how you went into detail about the notions of category based identities and using that to tie into group membership based identity, to talk about SAT (subtle asian traits).

    It is evident that groups and communities such as SAT have a lot of pros to it, such as; sense of belongingness, a third space to discuss important issues or even using it as a space to share memes. But can you outline or seen any cons to SAT? Because I know with such a large following/participants, there’s bound to be something you couldn’t/didn’t agree on.

    Great Article!! :))

    1. Hi Allan,

      Thank you for your response 🙂

      I guess because SAT is now such a huge community, there are admins that moderate and approve the posts that appear. Because there are so many posts that are submitted, you get a lot of posts that end up being approved months later and can sometimes no longer be relevant in the context of event that occurred globally. So in some ways, it does feel like some voices are being ignored if their story doesn’t match the criteria the admin wants.

      How about yourself, do you have any disagreements with SAT?

  8. Hi Terina,
    I liked your paper – it was well considered and thought provoking.

    I think the STOP AAPI Hate Movement do fantastic work and their message is so relevant.
    Your explanation of and discussion about affective publics got me thinking. What change do you think will follow on with this particular movement – is it just about changing the narrative? In the long term, how effective do you think they (affective publics) are to mobilising political campaigns?

    As a side note, I wrote about influencer culture for the conference – please check out my paper if you get a chance 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your paper,

    1. Hi Tim,

      Thanks for your response!

      I think the change following this movement could vary. I would like to believe that this movement has provided an educational experience for individuals, allowing them to become more self-aware with what they say/do and the impacts it can have. On the other hand, it could also lead to more political movements and social activism.

      I think that affective publics will be extremely effective in mobilising political campaigns. As mentioned in my paper, affective publics are created through the interconnected sentiments made by individuals online (Papacharissi & Trevey, 2018). Therefore, as more individuals join and participate in the same sentiments the more impact affective publics will have. Especially with more individuals utilising the internet to promote and discuss political campaigns.

      Papacharissi, Z., & Trevey, M. T. (2018). Affective publics and windows of opportunity: Social media and the potential for social change. In G. Meikle (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Media and Activism (1st ed., pp. 142-150). Routledge.

  9. Hi Terina,

    This was a great read. It really help to focus some thoughts that I have had previously. I personally have wondered what difficulty comes when identification around racial heritage. I am white Australian with a heritage of basically England as far back as we can track, so I peronally haven’t had to face any discrimination around that or have to struggle with what my identity is supposed to be. But then to have not only the identity of Asain I have thought it such a generalised term when Asia is such a large continent and encompasses so many different countries.

    It has is also good to see how much there has been a rise in stopping Asian hate across social media against such horrendous acts of violence and hatred that we have seen over this past year in particular.

    With the change in the ways groups like Subtle Asian Traits have changed, how do you think the future of the group will evolve as we see more people getting vaccinated and coronavirus start to become less prominent? Will these groups go back to their more lighthearted interactions as they were before or do you think they will continue to be more of that third space where people can truly express their own identity?

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for the comment and your thoughts.

      I do agree with your point of Asian being quite a broad term to use especially when, as you’ve said, so many countries are involved. I know that there are a few more specific terms used to classify Asian ethnicity such as Southeast Asian, East Asian, Central Asian, etc. that is used as well.

      As for your question about the difficulties that arise from having a racial heritage, I imagine that everyone with a racial heritage would have varying experiences. I guess the main difficulty with identification surrounding racial heritage, that I have faced, is the question of “where do I fit in?” Being born in Australia, growing up I was considered too ‘white-washed’ to fit in with an Asian group of individuals but due to my physical appearance of looking Asian I stood out amongst white-Australians. Thankfully, now I have found a good group of friends, but it was definitely an experience through primary and secondary education.

      In regards to Subtle Asian Traits, I think that when Covid-19 becomes less prominent the group will remain a third place to truly express their identity whilst still being light-hearted. As Abidin and Zeng (2020) mention, Subtle Asian Traits is a platform where memes and humorous posts do occur. Even now through the pandemic, there has still been memes and jokes posted amongst the mix of serious conversations. The memes and jokes made does reflect their identity as its usually a humorous post that many other Asian individuals have experienced or identify with too. So, I feel that SAT will likely go back to being more light-hearted whilst political conversations occur in-between. As for being a third-space, I think it always has been and will continue to be one.

      You mentioned that due to your heritage you haven’t had to face discrimination or a struggle with identity based on a racial background. However, do you have any experiences with a third-space to reinforce other aspects of your identity? (feel free to not answer if you’d rather not share)

      Thanks again for your reply!

      1. It is heartening to know that the ethos of group will still retain its core identity (at least as predicted). I have seen so many different groups that when something comes through them and the identity changes, it doesn’t go back which can be a shame. But not in this case!

        It hadn’t actually occurred to me before your question, but I do actually. I have a sibling with a disability and am part of a Facebook group that is just for siblings. Definitely acts like a third-space where people can come together mostly to vent.

        1. I think the identity of the group doesn’t not change, but it evolves whilst retaining some core elements of its identity.

          That’s really cool to hear and definitely does reinforce what a third place is. You mention that it is a place where individuals come together to vent, which reinforces Oldenburg and Brissett (1982) characteristics of a third place. They mention that a third place is a space where emotional expression is permitted, that you might not be and/or unable to express in your ‘real’ day to day interactions.

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