(CBS NEWS) — A tweet by then-President Trump using the phrase “Chinese virus” 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 million hashtags in the days leading up to and after Mr. 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!” Mr. Trump tweeted on March 16, 2020.
Researchers also found that those who used the hashtag #chinesevirus were significantly more likely to use other overtly racist hashtags. Those who used the hashtag #covid19 used fewer racist hashtags, however.
“These results may be a proxy of growth in anti-Asian sentiment that was not as prevalent as before,” UCSF epidemiology and biostatics assistant professor Yulin Hswen told CBS San Francisco. “Using racial terms associated with a disease can result in the perpetuation of further stigmatization of racial groups.”
According to a snapshot of Mr. Trump’s Twitter account from March 16, 2020 accessed via the Internet Archive, “Chinese virus” was at one point trending worldwide. At the time, his tweet drew condemnation from many who labeled the phrase as racist.
Hswen told CBS San Francisco that words matter, as shown by the study she helped conduct. “Many had believed [‘China virus’] was not a derogatory term, however, our evidence showed that is not the case and that more negative terms related to anti-Asian sentiment were associated with Chinese virus,” she said.
The study was released as anti-Asian attacks continue to rise throughout the nation. According to a report from Stop AAPI Hate, Asian Americans were subjected to nearly 3,800 hate incidents over the last year.
Earlier this week, shootings at three Atlanta-area spas killed at least eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. The 21-year-old suspected gunman has been charged with eight counts of murder. Authorities say it is still too early to say whether the attack was a hate crime.