Trump reference to COVID-19 as ‘Chinese virus’ prompted increase in anti-Asian hashtags: study

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Former President Trump tweeting the phrase “Chinese virus” in reference to COVID-19 in March 2020 sparked an increase in the use of anti-Asian hashtags on Twitter, according to a University of California, San Francisco study published on Wednesday.

Researchers examined nearly 700,000 tweets containing more than 1.2 million anti-Asian hashtags in the days before and after Trump’s tweet.

“The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!” Trump tweeted on March 16, 2020.

Half of the 777,852 hashtags with #chinesevirus after Trump’s tweet contained anti-Asian sentiment. Those who adopted the rhetoric were far more likely to pair it with other overtly racist hashtags, compared to those who tweeted with the hashtag #covid19.

“When comparing the week before March 16, 2020, to the week after, there was a significantly greater increase in anti-Asian hashtags associated with #chinesevirus compared with #covid19,” the study states.

Researchers specifically analyzed hashtags instead of tweets because they have shown to be a predictor of the formation of hate groups and the occurrence of hate crimes.

“These results may be a proxy of growth in anti-Asian sentiment that was not as prevalent as before,” Yulin Hswen, one of the study’s authors, told CBS San Francisco. “Using racial terms associated with a disease can result in the perpetuation of further stigmatization of racial groups.”

Many believed that the phrase “Chinese virus” was not derogatory, Hswen said, “however, our evidence showed that is not the case and that more negative terms related to anti-Asian sentiment were associated with Chinese virus.”

Trump and his allies repeatedly insisted on using similar terms since COVID-19 was initially detected in Wuhan, China.

Images of Trump’s notes in March 2020 showed that “Corona” was crossed out and replaced with “Chinese.” 

The former president has continued to use the phrase, even after leaving office and having his Twitter account permanently suspended. In a statement earlier this month, Trump referred to the COVID-19 vaccine as the “China Virus Vaccine.”

Trump, however, denied that the phrase could lead to a dangerous stigma against Asian Americans.

“It’s not racist at all,” Trump said at the time. “It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate.”

However, multiple studies have shown that the phrase “China virus” coincided with a surge in discrimination against Asian Americans.

The latest analysis comes amid a startling rise in anti-Asian attacks within the last year.

Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center that tracks incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a report released earlier this week that it has received nearly 3,800 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate since March 2020.

This week, six Asian women and two others were killed in a shooting spree that targeted massage parlors in Atlanta.

The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, has confessed to the shooting. He told police that he had a sex addiction and that the massage parlors and spas he had frequented represented “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” said Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.

Long also told police that the shootings were not racially motivated. However, prominent voices in the Asian American community have forcefully rejected that claim and condemned Long placing blame on the women. 

Democratic Rep. Grace Meng (N.Y.) took aim at Trump for his rhetoric during an appearance on Bill Clinton’s “Why Am I Telling You This?” podcast on Thursday, alleging that his language has led to the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.

“When I first heard the former president use words like ‘kung flu’ and ‘Chinese virus,’ I was really horrified. And every time he said it, I thought, OK, this will be the last time. He couldn’t possibly continue to use it,” Meng said.

“And even the WHO, the World Health Organization, even his own secretary of health suggested that we don’t use words like that, but he continued,” she said. 

“And when you have a leader in this country who has a tremendous platform, use words and fuel false facts and misinformation about the virus and it’s perpetuated by the leaders, the top leaders of the Republican Party in the White House and in the Congress, what happens is people, Asian Americans are getting shoved, assaulted, spat on,” Meng said.

Tags anti-Asian discrimination Bill Clinton Chinese virus coronavirus pandemic Donald Trump Grace Meng Hashtag Hate crime Social media Stop AAPI Hate Twitter

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