A recent paper by University of Warwick researchers appears to shed light on the real world impact of President Donald Trump’s anti-Islam tweets, showing a strong link between the president’s 280-character rhetoric and an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.
According to Scientific American, researchers Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz poured over FBI and Twitter usage data, finding not only a significant increase in Muslim-related hate crime since Trump’s election but also that such crimes increased around the times the president tweeted.
First, they documented that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes recorded by the FBI increased during Trump’s presidency. In fact, anti-Muslim crimes have been more prevalent under Trump compared to any other previous president, including George W. Bush following 9/11. Second, the researchers found strong statistical correlations between the number of Islam-related tweets made by Trump in a single week and the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes that took place in the days and weeks that followed. Trump’s anti-Islam tweets were only correlated with anti-Muslim crimes and not other types of hate crimes.
In an effort to determine if the increase in hate crimes correlated with a general increase in anti-minority sentiment among the public, the researchers mapped Twitter usage across the U.S., analyzing a potential geographic connection.
Since Twitter usage tends to vary by county, they looked at whether Trump’s Islam-related tweets were related to spikes in anti-Muslim crimes where more people used Twitter. They found that the spike in hate crimes did occur mainly in U.S. counties that had high Twitter usage, and this link only showed up after the start of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
This link opened new possibilities: perhaps Twitter usage is higher in counties more prone to hate-crimes in general or Twitter users are more likely to hold anti-Muslim attitudes.
In fact, the data suggests the opposite is likely true. Counties with higher Twitter usage tend to be more Democratic and more ethnically diverse than counties with lower usage. They also have more citizens who prefer to get their news from MSNBC and CNN rather than Fox News. The researchers also looked at whether the areas showing a stronger pattern linking Trump’s tweets and hate crimes were characterized by greater poverty or more crime in general; they were not. There was also no evidence that areas with higher Twitter usage are more prone to hate crimes in general.
It must be stressed that this research shows correlation but not causation; to determine whether Trump’s tweets cause people to act out on their prejudices would require far more controlled experimentation and analysis.
But it does show a strong connection between the president’s words and individual behaviors, adding credibility to the notion that Trump’s election fostered an environment where those with anti-Muslim views feel more comfortable displaying those sentiments in public.