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ADL Report: Anti-Asian Hostility Spikes on Twitter After President Trump's COVID Diagnosis

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New York, NY, October 9, 2020 ... ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) today issued a new study showing a dramatic spike in anti-Asian sentiment and conspiracy theories about the spread of coronavirus in conversations on Twitter in the days immediately following the president’s first tweet about his positive diagnosis on October 2.

The new study of Twitter conversations and activity, conducted by ADL’s Center for Technology and Society, found that in the 12 hours after the president’s initial tweet about his and the first lady’s COVID-19 diagnosis, there was an 85 percent increase in anti-Asian language and conspiracy theories tracked on the platform. Similarly, the rate of discussions about various conspiracy theories increased 41 percent, with some of those conversations also taking on antisemitic overtones. From October 2-5, the percentage of anti-Asian language on Twitter remained higher than usual.

ADL unveiled the new findings this morning in a virtual press conference hosted by Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), Chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Also joining were Reps. Grace Meng (NY-06) and Brad Schneider (IL-10), and John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

“The level of hatred and vitriol that was aimed at Asian Americans and Chinese people on social media is simply staggering,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “The hate speech and stereotyping are irresponsible and can spillover into real world violence. With the alarming increase in physical attacks and hate crimes against Asian Americans in recent months, it is clear that all leaders, including our president, need to stop blaming others for spreading the virus.”

The data was gathered with the ADL Online Hate Index (OHI), a new tool that uses state of the art technologies such as machine learning to investigate the prevalence of hate speech on social media platforms. This language was also analyzed with help from tools developed by The Alan Turing Institute.

ADL also found that one of the most common beliefs expressed by conspiracy theories was that a “New World Order” or “NWO” would be implemented – supposedly run by secretive actors who either gave President Trump the virus or plan to assassinate him under cover of his illness. Other common online conspiracy theories suggest the virus is a bioweapon created by the Chinese government, that Bill Gates caused the virus, and that the virus was “engineered” by humans.

These Twitter discussions also mention elements of the QAnon conspiracy theories, calling on “patriqts”deliberately misspelled to signal fellow believers in Q, to rescue the president. Some tweets made antisemitic claims such as President Trump is a “crypto Jew” or a “Zionist agent,” or that he is a pawn caught up in the machinations of Jewish interests.

“Misinformation and xenophobia are dangerous. That is why the CDC and WHO have both warned not to associate COVID-19 with a specific people or country because of the stigma it causes. And now, thanks to the ADL’s report, we are able to see that harmful impact in real time,” said Rep. Judy Chu. “As the ADL’s report shows, the alarming anti-Asian hate incidents we have witnessed in recent months are not an accident. They are the result of an atmosphere of xenophobia and bigotry that is thriving on Twitter and other online platforms.”

The findings are based on an analysis of more than 2.7 million tweets between 8 p.m. UTC on Oct. 2 through 9 p.m. UTC on Oct. 5. Some of the tweets analyzed harkened back to remarks made by the president on September 29 in the first presidential debate, when he suggested that the pandemic was “China’s fault,” and referred to the virus as the “China plague,” the latest in a pattern of inflammatory remarks over many months.

Global anxiety about the outbreak of the coronavirus has spawned misinformation and scapegoating. Since the spread of the virus in the U.S., there has been a surge of incidents of bias, harassment, and violence against Asian Americans, immigrants, and Orthodox Jewish communities.

Building on ADL’s century of experience working toward a world without hate, the Center for Technology and Society (CTS) serves as a resource to tech platforms and develops proactive solutions to fight hate both online and offline. CTS works at the intersection of technology and civil rights through education, research and advocacy.