Anti-Asian hate speech surged by 1,662% during the pandemic, study finds

Many of the racist slurs aimed at people of Asian ethnicity during the pandemic did not even exist two years, researchers say

Nadine White
Monday 15 November 2021 08:59 GMT
There was a surge in abuse aimed at Chinese people in the UK in the first months of the Covid pandemic
There was a surge in abuse aimed at Chinese people in the UK in the first months of the Covid pandemic (AFP via Getty Images)

Anti-Asian hate speech increased by 1,662 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 in the UK, a new report examining how racism online changed during the pandemic has revealed.

There were 23 million references to violent threats, many aimed at people of Asian ethnicity, in the UK and US between 2019 and mid-2021, the research found.

The study, by leading youth charity Ditch the Label, was published on Monday to mark the beginning of Anti-Bullying Week. It analysed 263 million online conversations between 2019 and mid- 2021, when there was a new online post about race or ethnicity-based hate speech every 1.7 seconds on average.

Police data has previously shown a surge in hate crimes against Chinese people in the UK during the coronvirus pandemic.

The rise anti-Asian abuse following the Covid outbreak came amid rising racism spurred in response to Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, as well as recurring discussions about immigration and Brexit across the UK in the past four years.

Liam Hackett, chief executive of Ditch the Label said: “This report shines a vital and sobering light on the very real and devastating experiences of millions worldwide, as they battle not only their own personal struggles, but navigate through alarming rates of online toxicity and abuse. It is clear that online hate speech has reached an all-time high and, to some communities, is at an unbearable extreme.

“By far, the most alarming data surrounds abuse directed towards marginalised communities, with a deep intensity surrounding racism and Asian hate.

“It is my hope that this vital piece of research will illuminate the true extent of online hate and progress to positively influence societal behaviours and policy to better protect people online.”

“It’s horrifying to see so many examples and reports of hate speech on the internet,” Gemma Joyce, Content Director at Brandwatch, said. (PA)

The charity partnered with Brandwatch, a digital consumer intelligence company, to analyse public online conversations about hate speech leading up to and since the pandemic began.

Many of racis slurs now levied at Asian people both online and in person did not exist two years ago prior to the Covid pandemic, the study found.

Gemma Joyce, content director at Brandwatch, described the abuse documented in this research as “horrifying” and warned the situation was “getting worse”.

“It’s horrifying to see so many examples and reports of hate speech on the internet but heartening to see that people are coming forward to share their experiences,” she said.

“Many won’t be surprised to see the high volume of discussion around online hate, especially since the pandemic began.

“By quantifying it broadly, we hope to help raise awareness of the problem to support those advocating against it, to show those affected that they’re not alone, and to educate those who don’t see hateful content in their timelines.”

Ms Joyce added: “Online hate is real, it’s hurting people, and it’s been getting worse.”

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