“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!”

In this tweet from March 16, 2020, former President Donald Trump refers to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus,” sparking an increase in the use of anti-Asian hashtags on Twitter, according to a new study by the University of California, San Francisco.

The study looked at Twitter data from before and after Trump’s tweet, examining nearly 700,000 tweets, which contained over 1.2 million anti-Asian hashtags. Hashtags have been shown to be a predictor of the formation of hate groups as well as the occurrence of hate crimes.

Of the 777,852 tweets that included #chinesevirus after Trump’s tweet, nearly 400,000 contained anti-Asian sentiments. Additionally, many of these users paired their tweets with other racist hashtags.

The study states: “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.”

“These results may be a proxy of growth in anti-Asian sentiment that was not as prevalent as before. Using racial terms associated with a disease can result in the perpetuation of further stigmatization of racial groups,” said Yulin Hswen, one of the study’s authors, commented on the rise of anti-Asian hate in the United States.

Trump and his allies have been insistent on utilizing rhetoric to link COVID-19 to China ever since the virus was first detected in Wuhan. In fact, images of Trump’s notes from March 2020 show that the former president crossed out the word “Corona” and replaced it with “Chinese,” presumably in order to place blame on the Chinese government. Additionally, in a statement released earlier this month, Trump used the term “China Virus Vaccine” when discussing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Trump has argued that the “Chinese Virus” term is not meant to be racist. “It’s not racist at all,” he said. “It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate.”

Hswen, on the other hand, argued that the hashtags have had damaging consequences. “Our evidence showed that is not the case and that more negative terms related to anti-Asian sentiment were associated with Chinese virus,” he said. In addition to Hswen’s research, several other studies have found a correlation between the use of the phrase “China virus” and anti-Asian discrimination.

Within the last year, the United States has experienced an alarming rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Recently, Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, reported that it has received almost 4,000 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate since March 2020.

Earlier this week, six Asian women were killed in a shooting spree in Atlanta. The shooter, Robert Aaron Long, claimed that he targeted massage parlors in the city because they “tempted” him. Long reportedly also told police that he has a sex addiction.

While Long has denied that the shooting was racially motivated, many Asian American activists have rejected this claim. Rep. Grace Meng (D-New York), who spoke out on Thursday about Trump’s anti-Asian language and how it is linked to an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

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

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