Political divide shapes public reaction on anti-Asian crimes

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Data researchers at the University of Rochester find that the national political divide impacts the public reaction to Asian hate crimes.

The study examined public opinion toward #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate, the hashtags and websites that provide information, resources, places to donate, and places to report hate crimes.

In a paper posted on arXiv, an open-access, non-peer-reviewed repository of scientific papers, the researchers reported that supporters of President Joe Biden are more likely to support these hashtags, and supporters of former President Donald Trump are more likely to be negative. Women and younger adults from Asian and Black communities are more likely to participate in voicing support, with women being more direct than men in their demand for policy change. Men tend to discuss the issue in general terms.

Lead author Bruce Lyu, a doctoral student in UR professor of computer science Jiebo Luo’s group, believes the paper is the first large-scale social media based paper to examine public opinion about the two Asian anti-hate-crime hashtags. 

“Our interest is to always understand public opinion first, and then maybe discover some insight into how the situation can be improved,” says Luo, the corresponding author. “We hope these findings can help us design better ways of removing tension and misunderstandings between ethnic groups. That’s the high-level objective.”

Researchers analyzed the opinion of 46,058 Twitter users across 30 states in the U.S. from March 18 to April 11. Among them, more than 51 percent showed direct support of the #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate movement, while 18 percent retweeted news about anti-Asian crimes. Nearly 15 percent denounced anti-Asian racism, roughly 8 percent discussed issues about double standards, and nearly 2 percent explicitly called for policy change. Slightly more than 5 percent expressed negative opinion against the #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate movement.

“People who have not encountered hate crimes might express negative opinions because they do not have the related experience, along with the negative emotions, thus making it harder for them to understand the seriousness of hate crimes,” the publication states.

Black and white communities are divided over the issue. Black Twitter users, for example, are more likely to discuss their solidarity with the Asian community and tend to retweet messages that criticize white supremacy, the researchers found. The hashtags received more support in states with higher percentages of Asian populations and a higher incidence of racially motivated hate crimes.

This is not the first time that Luo’s research group has mined Twitter data. Researchers last year showed how the increased use of terms like “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” on the social media platform correlated strongly with a rise in media reports of attacks on Chinese and other Asians or Asian Americans.

Mayya Komisarchik, assistant professor of political science with a focus on race and ethnic politics, and Yangxin Fan and Ziyu Xiong, both master’s students at the Goergen Institute for Data Science, were collaborators in the study.

Only recently academic researchers and pollsters have begun to narrowly focus public opinion research among racial and ethnic groups based on country of origin.

“Only now are people asking Korean Americans and Chinese Americans and Indonesian Americans what they think about issues—and finding that there are important differences there,” Komisarchik says.

A Russian immigrant, Komisarchik says one focus of her research is immigration “as its own kind of force. Development of political identity is different for those who emigrate here, compared to those who were born here.”

Studies like this one are timely as the nation reckons with racism. In a bid to stop hatred and bias against Asian Americans, Biden on May 20 signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. The legislation aims to make reporting of hate crimes easier at local and state levels, and directs the Justice Department to name a point person to help with an expedited review of such crimes. Online reporting of hate crimes in multiple languages is also part of the plan.

For Luo’s research group, which has conducted similar studies mining Twitter data, there is more work to be done. They hope to explore the relationship between culture and public opinion in the future.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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