Chapel Hill residents defended candidate for Town Council Hongbin Gu on the Facebook page Orange County Local where a resident posted that it was “stunning” that “homegrown Americans” were facing immigrant opponents for political office.
Gu is an immigrant from China, has lived in the US for 22 years and became a citizen in 2015. She has a Ph. D in mathematical psychology and researches autism in the psychiatry department at the UNC School of Medicine.
According to the Durham Herald-Sun, which originally posted a story on the controversy, resident Douglas Roberts wrote, “She’s not US born,” and “What’s happened to us,” regarding Gu’s candidacy.
Moderator of the right-leaning Facebook group Ashley Campbell says residents soon came to Gu’s defense and that the post has since been deleted possibly by Roberts himself.
“The response that he got to that, which was a lot of people flocking to the post and telling him exactly how they felt he was wrong, and defending Hongbin Gu personally as well as adding things like, ‘What about all the other immigrants that have contributed so much over America’s history, would you not have let them serve in office,’ and making excellent points like that. That I think really was able to, like sunlight is the best disinfectant. So, it was able to show how his opinion would not necessarily stand up in a marketplace of ideas,” said Campbell.
Gu responded by telling her own immigration story of being born during the Cultural Revolution in China, her parents being sent to labor camps and participating in pro-democracy movements as a student. Gu said her experience, “especially coming from an authoritarian state,” made her appreciate America’s democratic system even more.
“She has just been very classy to her responses to this,” Campbell said. “I have just been very impressed with that because she’s not just ignored it which would be easy for her to do.”
Campbell says the group has approximately 4,000 members and that while moderators try not to impede open conversation in the group, each moderator has their own way of dealing with conflicts.
“We do want people to be able to express their political opinion regardless of whether we agree with them or not, so that’s one of the main things that we look out for,” said Campbell. “I try to work with people to mediate a conflict if I think that they can be mediated and try to help people understand another’s position, a lot of times that really goes nowhere. But I would rather try to do that initially than just ban people outright, because I think maybe it could be a learning opportunity, but some people are just there to fight or to troll and we end up banning those people usually at least temporarily.”
Although Campbell says she feels as if adults should be able to communicate on social media without mediation, she knows “hot topics” can cause emotional reactions and that people should remember that social media posts are public.
“It is public, and I was surprised to find out in the wake of this that a lot of people don’t realize this. Your employers can see it, a reporter can see it, and it can be printed in the paper; they don’t have to ask your permission. So it’s fair game in that kind of space,” Campbell said.