How much impact can one tweet have on society? A large impact, according to a recent study that found former President Donald Trump’s first tweet about a “Chinese Virus” led to an increase in anti-Asian hashtags and a rise in hate crimes against Asians.
The study, “Association of “#covid19” Versus “#chinesevirus” With Anti-Asian Sentiments on Twitter: March 9–23, 2020,” was published by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.
Looking at the term ‘Chinese virus,’ my interest was really based on the fact that a lot of a lot of people were dismissing the term ‘Chinese virus’ as not racist and that it didn’t have any racist undertones,” Hswen said. “I really wanted to provide evidence to show quantitatively how using the term ‘Chinese virus’ can have these stigmatizing effects on the community.”
The team analyzed 668,597 tweets and 1,273,141 hashtags using either #covid19 or #chinesevirus, and found that 19.7% of hashtags with #covid19 showed anti-Asian sentiment, compared with 50.4% of hashtags with #chinesevirus. 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, according to the study.
Hswen and her team found that words matter, and in this case the consequences have led to a string of attacks here in California and across the country, she said.
“The growth of the number of different hashtags that were being developed in the derivatives of Chinese virus, such as, Kung flu, or Chinaman flu, or Batman eating flu, that type of additional terminology that’s being used is really showcasing the growth and the type of hate that’s occurring, that’s really actually correlated with what we’re seeing in the real world, which is this, this rise in hatred towards Asians and these hate crimes, that are being perpetuated to them,” Hswen said.