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Technology

Silicon Valley confronts anti-Asian hate after Atlanta shootings

Tech executives and VCs voice concerns over violence and lack of representation

The three-hour Tech for AAPI online rally condemned violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and featured a discussion on how the tech industry can combat the problem.

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Silicon Valley is speaking out against anti-Asian racism following a surge in hate crimes in the U.S., even as social media companies come under pressure for not doing more to root out hate speech on their platforms.

Last Friday, more than 700 tech industry players took part in the Tech for AAPI online rally to condemn violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, and Deb Liu, CEO of Ancestry.com among the participants. Several prominent venture investors also joined the three-hour event to discuss how the tech industry can help combat anti-Asian racism.

Liu Bin, head of creators engineering at Pinterest and one of the organizers behind the virtual rally, said the event was the beginning of what he hopes will be a "campaign to spread the word and create awareness" of the racism Asians face in the country.

"A lot of us are in the tech industry, and we hope that our companies can do more and we can do more as individuals," said Liu, who moved to the U.S. from China eight years ago.

Chen Zheng, product director at Netflix and another organizer of Tech for AAPI, said Silicon Valley has both the responsibility and technological ability to tackle racism and hate crimes that not only hurt AAPI communities but people of all colors in the U.S.

"I think there are particular tech solutions we can actually leverage to address anti-Asian hate. Maybe we can validate the news source, or we can do a better job educating the general public; all those I think the tech industry has unique strengths to address," said Zheng, a Chinese American who has been in the U.S. for nearly two decades.

Stop AAPI Hate, a national nonprofit addressing anti-Asian hate amid the COVID-19 pandemic, logged 3,795 incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28 this year.

The Tech for AAPI rally was organized in the wake of a shooting spree in and near Atlanta, Georgia, in which six women of Asian descent were killed.

But while many tech companies have put out statements to condemn hate crimes against Asians after the shootings, the support has been perceived as too little, too late by some in the AAPI community.

Social media giants including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have long been criticized for not taking proper measures to curb misinformation and xenophobic comments about COVID-19 and AAPI communities on their platforms. These have included the spread of hashtags including 'China virus,' 'Kung Flu' and 'Wuhan virus,' which have fueled anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S.

In a hearing last month, the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter were grilled by U.S. lawmakers over the issue. While acknowledging that the spread of hate speech against minorities on social media is an alarming problem, the executives did not detail additional measures they will take to address it.

Eric Kim, co-founder and managing partner at Goodwater Capital, said a major problem that needs to be tackled is a lack of representation. While Silicon Valley tech companies have hired a large number of Asians and Asian Americans, he said, East Asians and Southeast Asians are still under-represented at the management level.

"We are continuing to be underrepresented in the major spheres of media, politics and business," Kim said, adding that this is hindering Asian communities' ability to "really effect change."

Hans Tung at GGV Capital spoke of the personal toll of racism.

"No matter how successful we are at our job, whether it's in tech, or you are a founder, the VC or what have you, as a group, a lot of people just don't care and worse, they don't like you for the color of your skin and want you to go back to whatever country you come from," he said at the event.

Tung has led GGV's investments in some of the highest-valued tech unicorns in both the U.S. and China, including ByteDance, Airbnb and Didi.

"It just makes me feel less human, less American, and feel small, no matter how big I am. Even though I'm six foot four, over 200 pounds, it doesn't really matter," he said of the rise in anti-Asian racism.

The Tech for AAPI rally was not Silicon Valley's only response to the Atlanta shootings.

Nearly 1,000 Asian American business leaders across the country have signed a pledge called Stand With Asian Americans to fight violence against Asians, support Asian employees, and ensure representation.

The pledge released on March 31 was signed by top executives at tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple, as well as Zoom's founder and CEO Eric Yuan.

"As a proud Asian American, it is disheartening to see the hatred and violence against our community," Yuan said in an email statement to Nikkei Asia. "Racism in any form is unacceptable and I feel strongly it is important to lend my voice and stand up with my fellow colleagues, friends and family who are suffering during this time."

In March, GGV Capital helped raise $5 million from venture capitalists and tech executives to donate to Asian American organizations, including Stop AAPI Hate and Red Canary Song, a grassroots collective of Asian sex workers and allies.

The GGV-led effort was supported by investors at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia, SoftBank Vision Fund and several other leading venture capital companies in Silicon Valley, and tech giants including Qualcomm.

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