Annie Nguyen is a Chinese-Australian travel blogger and influencer based in Sydney. She had never experienced any racist abuse from the 170,000 people who follow her Instagram account @anniesbucketlist — until now.
"Over the past two months I began receiving Instagram messages such as 'Stop eating bats' and 'because of your people the world is now suffering'," she told BuzzFeed News.
Nguyen is one of many Asian-Australian influencers and content creators who say they have noticed a spike in the frequency and ferocity of online racist abuse being directed at them during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Even though I'm lucky enough to have people come to my defence on public comments, receiving them still affects me mentally," she said.
Recently, Nguyen was upset by a comment on one of her Instagram posts that read "all of Chinese eat shits of animals in their food".
"It doesn't even matter that I'm only partially Chinese or that I'm vegetarian and don't even eat animals," she said. "Using the pandemic as an excuse for racism doesn't make it okay."
Along with the racist comments directed at her personally, Nguyen has noticed a surge in Sinophobic memes, hoaxes and messages circulating about the coronavirus on her news feeds.
It's been across all platforms, Nguyen said, but seems to be particularly prevalent on TikTok. She is concerned this could mean younger generations are being desensitised to racism.
Instagram fitness model @lydione1 has also noticed an uptick in abuse in her direct messages and in comments on her posts, but said "it's not that bad".
She told BuzzFeed News she's faced other kinds of online abuse before, so she's learnt to deal with the negativity.
"Any negativity that comes from another against another is a reflection of themselves, it's not any different to someone calling me a hoe for what I do," @lydione1 said.
Dr Crystal Abidin is a senior research fellow in internet studies at Curtin University. She told BuzzFeed News that influencers are finding themselves in the crosshairs because their audiences expect them, as public figures, to take feedback — whether it's warranted or not.
"We also expect that influencers are obligated to respond to, interact with, and even please their audiences to maintain eyeballs and loyalty for their advertorials, which makes the comment sections of their platforms a hotbed for provoking reactions, especially from trolls," Abidin said.
Asian-Australian influencers are currently being treated as figureheads for an entire culture and scapegoated for the pandemic, Abidin said.
Other content creators have been abused even while helping out during the crisis. Jamie Zhu is a Chinese-Australian online content creator with nearly eight million followers across Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.
After sharing a video where he and his friends gave food and supplies to people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic — a departure from the comedy content he mostly makes — Zhu still had a stream of comments and messages blaming him for the coronavirus.
"I actually got a message this morning from someone who said 'Sorry Jamie but you're Chinese so I'm unfollowing you cause the virus comes from China'," he told BuzzFeed News.
Zhu said he set out to inspire others to help people who are less fortunate, and that the racist abuse he's faced won't stop him.
"It doesn't affect me at all, it just makes me more driven to stand up for my Asian culture and pave the way for Asian people to stand up for themselves," he said.