SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A study by the University of California San Francisco found that there was a significant rise in anti-Asian sentiment on Twitter in the week following former President Donald Trump tweeting out the term ‘Chinese virus’ last March.

The study examined nearly 700,000 tweets and nearly 1.3 million hashtags in the weeks before and after Trump’s tweet on March 16, 2020, which used language health experts warned would contribute to a rise in racist attitudes.

People who tweeted #chinesevirus were far more likely to pair it with other overtly racist hashtags, while people who used #covid19, the World Health Organization’s official name for the disease and the term recommended by public health experts, were far less likely to include racist hashtags.

About 20% of nearly 500,000 hashtags with #covid19 showed anti-Asian sentiment, while 50% of 775,000 tweets containing #chinesevirus had anti-Asian bias.

Researchers chose to track hashtags rather than the content of the tweets themselves because hashtags have been shown to act as a predictor of the formation of hate groups and the occurrence of hate crimes.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, comes at a time where the nation is reckoning with a rash of violent attacks against people of Asian descent.

“These results may be a proxy of growth in anti-Asian sentiment that was not as prevalent as before,” said Yulin Hswen, ScD, MPH, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and a member of the Baker Computational Health Sciences Institute. “Using racial terms associated with a disease can result in the perpetuation of further stigmatization of racial groups.” 

Hswen says this study proves that it is important to use neutral language when naming pubic health issues.

“Chinese virus, China virus, Wuhan virus, or any derivative of these terms is not something we should be using,” Hswen said. “We should not be attaching location or ethnicity to diseases.”