Anti-Chinese Hate Speech Online Has Skyrocketed Since the Coronavirus Crisis Began

“Toxic tweets are using explicit language to accuse Asians of carrying the coronavirus and blaming people of Asian origin as a collective for spreading the virus.”
coronavirus hate speech chinese
AP Photo/John Minchillo

A new report says anti-Chinese hate speech on Twitter has skyrocketed by 900 percent in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The report comes from Israeli artificial intelligence startup L1ght, which used its technology to search the internet for increases in hate speech, cyberbullying, and general online toxicity.

“According to our data, racist abuse is being targeted most explicitly against Asians, including Asian Americans,” the report says. “Toxic tweets are using explicit language to accuse Asians of carrying the coronavirus and blaming people of Asian origin as a collective for spreading the virus.”


When asked about the report, a Twitter spokesperson did not address the specific findings, but said Twitter had expanded its policies to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and "under our hateful conduct policy, we do not permit the abuse of people based on their national origin on Twitter. It has no place on our service."

L1ght’a AI-powered system is designed to be used by websites, social networks, and other platforms to protect children from hate speech, cyberbullying, and other toxic content online. Its technology is already being used by governments and law enforcement agencies, including a number of police forces in the U.S.

The 900% increase is a staggering figure, and mirrors a huge spike in offline attacks on Asians during the coronavirus crisis, a spike that has been at least partly fueled by President Donald Trump’s insistence on calling the outbreak the “Chinese virus.”

Twitter isn't the only online platform seeing a spike in hate speech and anti-Chinese behavior. L1ght analyzed millions of websites, social networks, teen chatting forums, and gaming sites from December until this week, examining text alongside images, videos, and voice recordings to identify increases in hate speech, cyberbullying, and general online toxicity.

The researchers found that because younger people had more time to spend online, there has been a 70% increase in hate speech between kids and teens using online chats, while there was a 40% uptick in abusive language on popular gaming platforms such as Discord.


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“It is deeply concerning that instigators of hate are exploiting this time of crisis to reach out to new audiences with their offensive content – including children,” Zohar Levkovitz, CEO and co-founder of L1ght, told VICE News. “Big tech companies and hosting providers have a responsibility to filter out online toxicity, and they must act now.”

The data also shows a 200% increase in traffic to prominent hate sites tracked by L1ght. And Levkovitz says that some smaller hate sites it monitors have seen traffic increase from tens of thousands of visitors per month to several hundreds of thousands.

As the coronavirus epidemic, and online hate speech, have spread, so have offline attacks directed at Asian Americans.

In the early days of the outbreak, even before it reached the U.S., researchers from San Francisco collected more than 1,000 reported cases of xenophobia against Chinese Americans between Jan. 28 and Feb. 24.

Last week, a coalition of Asian American groups — the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Department of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University — launched a website where people can self-report racist incidents using forms that come in seven different languages.

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In the first week alone, the coalition says it received 673 reports of coronavirus discrimination from Asian Americans across the country. The group found that women are three times more likely to report harassment than men, with verbal harassment and name-calling making up two-thirds of all reports.

But some attacks have turned physical. A woman in New York said a man punched and kicked her when she was wearing a face mask, calling her “diseased.” In Texas, an Asian family was targeted in a knife attack that left the father and son with bad cuts across their faces.

“These numbers do not detail the hate and vitriol that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are experiencing,” Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, said in a statement. “And they don’t make evident the fear and anxiety that community members feel when they leave their homes to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, or just leave their homes for a walk in their neighborhoods.”

Cover: A pedestrian adjusts her facemask while passing restaurants and businesses in Chinatown, Monday, March 16, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)