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Anti-Asian hate on Twitter spiked during pandemic, new U of U study finds

Posted at 9:24 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 23:24:46-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Max Chang believes he was probably the first Taiwanese-American born in Utah.

“My father was one of the first to emigrate from Taiwan in the 1960s as part of the brain drain," he said.

Chang remembers learning about the Transcontinental Railroad in seventh grade Utah history, but the class didn’t talk about the contributions of Chinese railroad workers, he said.

“That was really my first exposure of not being seen," he said. “That's one of the commonalities of the Asian-American experience is that we are strangers, and we are not quite belonging to this country.”

In the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, anti-Asian hate has surged in the real world and online. Researchers at the University of Utah have been tracking anti-Asian hate and where that hate came from through tweets, said Alexander Hohl, Assistant Professor at the U of U.

“We're working right now on kind of making that connection right between hate on social media towards the Asian-American community and actual acts of hate crimes on the ground," he said. “You inject hate into social media, it's not completely going away.”

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Hohl, along with co-author Richard Medina, want this research to pinpoint specific counties of concern where protection for Asian-Americans, and awareness campaigns, might be needed.

“If we can put it on the map, we can engage in place-based countermeasures, or place-based strategies to deal with that," said Hohl. 

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While many of the hateful tweets came from counties with big cities, anti-Asian messages were shared in suburban and rural areas too. 

“What stood out to me, for example, the Seattle area is not as prominent on the map," said Hohl. "Even though we discovered COVID-19 in the United States near Seattle, right? That's where the first case was.”

The U's finding clusters of elevated hate when COVID arrived in the U.S. did not shock Chang; Asian-Americans have always been scapegoats, he said.

“It's been kind of a quest of mine over time to make sure that these stories are not forgotten," he said. "And they are told and remember, because once we can learn from history, we can go forward in a more productive way.”

This study is just the first step in identifying how hate on social media translates to violence and crime and addressing racism as a public health issue for Asian-Americans in the U.S.