From Hashtag to Hate Crime: Twitter and Anti-Minority Sentiment

Carlo Schwarz (University of Warwick)

January 9, 2020, 14:00–15:30


Room Auditorium 3

Job Market Seminar


We study whether social media can activate hatred of minorities, with a focus on Donald Trump’s political rise. We show that the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in the US since the start of Trump’s presidential campaign has been concentrated in counties with high Twitter usage. To establish causality, we develop an identification strategy based on Twitter’s early adopters at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, which marked a turning point in the site’s popularity. Instrumenting with the locations of SXSW followers in March 2007, while controlling for the locations of SXSW followers who joined in previous months, we find that a one standard deviation increase in Twitter usage is associated with a 38% larger increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes since Trump’s campaign start. We also show that Trump’s tweets about Islam-related topics are highly correlated with anti-Muslim hate crimes after the start of his presidential campaign, but not before. These correlations persist in an instrumental variable framework exploiting that Trump is more likely to tweet about Muslims on days when he plays golf. Trump’s tweets also predict more anti-Muslim Twitter activity of his followers and higher cable news attention paid to Muslims, particularly on Fox News.