Anti-Asian Twitter Hashtags Spiked After Trump Called COVID the ‘Chinese Virus’

Asian Americans have reported thousands of incidents of harassment and violence over the past year.
March 19, 2021, 4:03pm
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 29, 2020.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 29, 2020. (Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A single tweet from then-President Donald Trump during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic popularized the term “Chinese Virus” and was followed by an increase in anti-Asian rhetoric on the platform, according to a new study.

Trump first wrote “Chinese virus” in a tweet on March 16, 2020, just as the U.S. was beginning to grasp the seriousness of the public health emergency. Almost overnight, “#chinesevirus” began rivaling the hashtag “#covid19” on Twitter as the top reference to the virus, according to a new peer-reviewed study in the Publication of the American Public Health Association. 

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Significantly, researchers found that over half of the tweets containing the hashtag “#chinesevirus” showed “anti-Asian sentiment,” compared to fewer than 20 percent of the tweets that included the hashtag “#covid19,” between March 9 and March 23, 2020. The researchers analyzed nearly 1.3 million hashtags as part of the study. 

“The week before Trump’s tweet, the dominant term [on Twitter] was #covid-19,” Yulin Hswen, a co-author of the study and an epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco, told The Washington Post. “The week after his tweet, it was #chinesevirus.”

Trump has continued to refer to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” or “China virus” even after leaving office, and despite the sharp increase in harassment and abuse of Asian Americans

“I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China Virus) Vaccine, that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all,” Trump said in an unprompted press release earlier this month. “I hope everyone remembers!”

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The group Stop AAPI Hate reported Tuesday that there have been nearly 3,800 “hate incidents” against Asian Americans since March 2020. On the same day that report was published, eight people, including six Asian women, were shot and killed in a series of murders at three massage parlors in the Atlanta metro area. A 21-year-old man, Robert Aaron Long, has been arrested and is suspected in the killings

Other attacks against Asian Americans have ranged from verbal harassment to physical violence

On Wednesday, 39-year-old Steven Jenkins was arrested in San Francisco on suspicion of attacking two elderly Asian Americans, 76-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie and 83-year-old Ngoc Pham. Xiao Zhen Xie beat her attacker off with a stick and he was subdued by a security guard until police arrived. Jenkins was charged with two counts each of elderly abuse and assault likely to produce great bodily injury. 

During a House panel Thursday, Democratic lawmakers accused Trump and other Republicans who spread racist monikers for the virus like “Chinese virus” and even “kung flu” of helping to fuel anti-Asian sentiment in America. 

“You can say racist, stupid stuff if you want,” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, a Taiwanese-American, said Thursday. “But I’m asking you to please stop using racist terms like ‘kung flu’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ or other ethnic identifiers and describe them as virus.”