Trump’s first tweet about a ‘Chinese virus’ caused an increase of anti-Asian hashtags on Twitter, study finds

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An image of former President Donald Trump’s now-suspended Twitter account and the Twitter logo.

  • Anti-Asian sentiment on Twitter spiked after Trump used the term “Chinese virus” on March 16, 2020.
  • UC San Francisco researchers analyzed posts from the week before and after Trump’s tweet.
  • Asians in America have been targeted seemingly because the coronavirus was first found in China.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Then-President Donald Trump’s first tweet about a “Chinese virus” triggered a rise in anti-Asian hashtags on Twitter, a study has found.

A peer-reviewed study published last Wednesday by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that the March 16, 2020, tweet was directly responsible for a major increase in anti-Asian hashtags.

Trump went on to use the term repeatedly on Twitter and in person throughout the pandemic. At the time of his tweet, there were 153,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and several US states had introduced emergency measures.

The researchers analyzed nearly 700,000 tweets that used either “#covid19” or “#chinesevirus” between March 9 to March 23. They said that 50% of the tweets that used “#chinesevirus,” and 20% of tweets that used “#covid19” showed anti-Asian sentiment.

“When comparing the week before March 16 [the date of Trump’s tweet] to the week after, there was a significantly greater increase in anti-Asian hashtags associated with #chinesevirus compared with #covid19,” they wrote.

Read more: Anti-Asian violence is part of an epidemic of racism but here’s why you’re only hearing about it now

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At the time, Trump defended his use of the term. “Because it comes from China. It’s not racist at all,” he told a reporter on March 18, referring to the fact that the novel coronavirus was first found in Wuhan, China.

The use of terms like “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” which Trump publicly said at a rally in June, have come alongside a rise in racist sentiment toward Asians in the US.

An Ipsos survey conducted in late April found that more than 30% of Americans had witnessed someone blaming people of Asian descent for the coronavirus pandemic.

Attacks against Asians in the US increased by 150% in 2020, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Last July, John C. Yang, the president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, told Insider that terms like “kung flu” result in physical and verbal abuse towards Asians.

“That term plays on a racist stereotype in itself and is being used to stigmatize a community regarding a medical issue that all of the world should be rallying around,” Yang said.

“We should not be trying to find terms that alienate communities and harms communities even further than the health crisis that we are already in.”

In recent months, violence against Asian Americans, much related to the coronavirus, has been on the rise.

At a congressional hearing into the phenomenon on Thursday, Rep. Grace Meng said Trump and other Republican Party figures had put a “a bull’s-eye on the back of Asian Americans across this country.”

The issue of anti-Asian violence made headlines again last week after a 21-year-old white man shot dead eight people, six of whom were Asian, in the Atlanta area on Tuesday.

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