ADL finds 85% jump in anti-Asian rhetoric and conspiracy theories on Twitter after Trump got coronavirus

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Entrance to Los Angeles Chinatown. Photo by Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the 12 hours after President Trump announced he tested positive for COVID-19, a surge of anti-Asian sentiment and conspiracy theories proliferated on Twitter. That’s according to the Anti-Defamation League in a new study. The ADL looked at 2.7 million tweets and found an 85% increase in anti-Asian language and conspiracy theories.

Democratic Representative Judy Chu of Pasadena hosted a press conference today unveiling the findings. She chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. 

KCRW: Specifically what happened after Trump tested positive, according to the ADL? 

Judy Chu: “In the period following the president's first tweet about his positive coronavirus diagnosis, there was an 85% increase in anti-Asian language and conspiracy theories that they were able to track on Twitter. And the conspiracy theories were very ugly. They also had anti-Semitic overtones. And it is very alarming because we've already seen a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents since January. It is because of President Trump's insistence on using the terms “China virus,” “Wuhan virus” and even “kung fu.”

Why do you think it was his COVID diagnosis that created this surge in anti-Asian rhetoric?

“He has had this theme throughout, that there is a country to blame. And so it actually follows along with his rhetoric. And the diagnosis only reinforced it.” 

You are Chinese American. Your district includes areas that are heavily Asian American. What have conversations been like for you about how this hate on social media is playing out in day-to-day life?

“Asian Americans are just so anxious about this. They don't know what a stranger will say to them. And in fact, there are so many that have been the recipient of terrible remarks, insulting remarks sometimes said under the breath, sometimes said openly. 

In LA a 16-year-old boy was sent to the hospital after being attacked by bullies who accused him of having coronavirus. In New York an 89-year-old Asian woman was set on fire when out for a walk in her neighborhood. 

And in Texas, a man stabbed three Asian Americans, including children ages 2 and 6 at a Sam's Club, saying that he wanted to exterminate Asian Americans because of the coronavirus. 

There was a Pasadena resident who was on the Gold Line when a man started a big diatribe against Asians, and saying how dirty they were and how they cause all the diseases. And when she looked around, she was the only Asian there. She didn't think it was directed to her because she was actually Thai and not Chinese. His comments were against the Chinese. But nonetheless, this has sent a chill throughout the Asian American community.”

What do you tell Asian Americans in the community about how to respond to this?

“First of all, I encourage them all to report the hate crime or incident. There is a hate crime reporting site called “STOP AAPI HATE.” It is important to do that, no matter how small you think the incident was, or whether you think you might be at risk if you do so. 

It is important to do that. Because the worst thing that can happen to you is to feel isolated. It is important for you to know that there are many others that are very concerned about this, that do want to do something about this. And in fact, those hate crime reporting sites can provide resources to those who do report.”

What is your message to Trump and your colleagues in Congress? Do you think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others do enough to counter these messages?

“No, they have not. And in fact, ever since the beginning of this, I have been very active and taking a leadership role in writing letters, and doing press conferences, in sending a strong message that Donald Trump and his followers need to stop using the terms “China virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “kung fu.” 

In fact, the CDC and the World Health Organization have been very clear that one should not use the terms that associate such a disease with a place or an ethnicity because of the stigma and the hate that it can cause. And that's why they use the neutral term COVID-19. That is what Donald Trump should be doing. And that's what his followers should be saying.”



Larry Perel


Kathryn Barnes, Amy Ta