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Trump's Tweets Are Highly Correlated With Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes, Study Finds

Have we been underestimating the power of social media?

CARLY CASSELLA
26 JUN 2018

Donald Trump's regular and inflammatory tweets are like nothing ever seen from the President of the United States.

"My use of social media is not presidential," Mr. Trump said last year. "It's modern day presidential."

 

Whatever it is, it appears to be remarkably effective, and not in a good way.

A new study has found compelling evidence that President Trump's Islamic-related tweets are highly correlated with an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

To be clear, only a correlation was found. The study does not claim that the Trump campaign, or social media itself, is the immediate cause of the spike in hate crimes. However, if Trump's racially-charged tirades do in fact play a role in the crimes, as the study suggests, we will have been seriously underestimating the powerful consequences of social media.

Recently, social media platforms, like Twitter, have come under fire for trapping their users in a bubble, where they are only met with information that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs.

This leads to what we call "echo chambers," and when prejudice is involved, these online platforms can get really nasty, really fast. It certainly doesn't help when the President himself is posting videos of Muslims beating people up and destroying statues - especially when those videos do not actually depict Muslims.

 

But can the anti-Muslim prejudice espoused on social media incite real-life action?

So far the evidence has been pretty limited, and that's why researchers at the University of Warwick set out to fill in the gaps.

Focusing their research on anti-Muslim hate crimes – a hot button issue supercharged by the Trump administration – the researchers gathered together FBI data on all hate crimes between 1990 and 2016.

In the past 26 years, the data reveals that anti-Muslim hate crimes have gone up. In fact, compared to the past three administrations, under the Trump administration, anti-Muslim hate crimes are at their highest.

Screen Shot 2018 06 26 at 12.07.37 pm( Muller, Schwarz)

The results are surprising given that the Bush administration saw a 10-fold increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes following 9/11. The results suggest that hate crimes leveraged against Muslims are worse now than following the deadliest terrorist attack in American history.

But what exactly is driving this increase? The study doesn't have any definitive answers, however, there does appear to be a link between social media usage and anti-Muslim hate crimes.

The results, for instance, show that crimes based on anti-Muslim prejudice have been concentrated almost exclusively in counties with high Twitter usage.

 

Moreover, this pattern did not exist before President Trump's campaign, and the study found no link between anti-Muslim hate crimes and other factors, like voting patterns, ethnicity, economics or general crime rates.

Strangely enough, the voters in these counties are not even likely to be Trump supporters. In fact, it's just the opposite. The researchers found the counties with the highest Twitter usage were predominantly more Democratic, more ethnically diverse, more wealthy and more urban.

Even still, this doesn't say anything about the power of Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric specifically. As a next step, the researchers examined whether Trump's tweets were themselves correlated with spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes. It turns out, they were.

"Trump's tweets about Muslims have substantial forecasting ability for anti-Muslim hate crimes until about 3 or 4 weeks into the future," the study reports.

The findings are worrisome, and while they do not prove that Trump is causing an increase in anti-Muslim prejudice, the researchers hypothesize that he may be fueling it.

"There is no correlation between Trump's tweets and hate crimes with other motives, which suggests that we are not merely capturing waves of anti-minority sentiment," the authors write.

"Our findings are thus consistent with the interpretation that Trump's presidential campaign aided an unraveling of social norms that made people more willing to express views that were previously deemed socially unacceptable," they add.

For instance, the researchers found the largest spikes in hate crime coincided with crucial events during Trump's campaign, including his election day, his call for a Muslim ban, and his reaction to the Brussel terror attacks.

Screen Shot 2018 06 26 at 3.35.54 pm (Muller, Schwarz)

"Taken at face value, this evidence suggests that, with the start of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, social media may have come to play a role in the propagation of hate crimes – and thus political polarization," the study concludes.

Just today, the Supreme Court upheld what Trump has repeatedly called a "Muslim ban" - one that could restrict visas to people based on their religion. In true form, the President celebrated the decision with a tweet.

The study has been published by the Social Science Resource Network.

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