New York, NY – May 13, 2021 – Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian American community has experienced a 145% increase in hate crimes; with incidents ranging from verbal harassment to deadly assaults. Despite widespread condemnation of these acts, Nielsen’s newly published study, part of the Asian American Diverse Intelligence Series report, Hope And Action, found that anti-Asian hate speech online actually increased in the beginning of this year. And while many major U.S. brands have taken action to combat racism targeting Asian Americans, some of these same companies are also unintentionally funding online hate speech through their advertising. From January – March 2021, $153 million was spent on digital ads on U.S.-based URLs that have published content with anti-Asian rhetoric. The top ad categories monetizing this hate speech included TV stations and networks ($29.7 million ad spend), department stores ($6 million), apparel ($4.1 million), miscellaneous retail ($3.9 million), travel ($629,000), and arms and ammunition ($122,000).
The Nielsen study, which incorporated the use of artificial intelligence, found more than 250 ad campaigns appearing on 1,280 website URLs that featured the use of racist terminology and conspiracies related to coronavirus origins, Asians and China. Once the offensive content was isolated, over 5,000 ad occurrences were identified. Ad campaigns from a dozen Fortune 500 companies and at least 66 brands were found adjacent to content that included anti-Asian hate speech.
Ad-supported anti-Asian hate speech in digital content
From news reporting to op-eds, incendiary terms (e.g., “China virus,” “Wuhan plague”) and subjective language connecting blame for the pandemic to Chinese and Asian people has been pervasive across digital content. Nielsen also found that certain key words and phrases have actually increased this year as the U.S. approached the one year anniversary of national lockdown orders in March. News sites that published articles flagged as including anti-Asian hate speech were visited by 38.1 million people during first-quarter 2021.
Nearly one-third of the hate speech in March 2021 came from one site. This one domain collected in excess of $100,000 in digital ad revenue from three top advertising categories: department stores, miscellaneous organization and apparel, footwear and accessory stores.
What brands can do right now
Nielsen’s findings highlight an opportunity for brands to take action against funding hate speech online. Companies and their advertising partners are urged to be in constant review as language emerges that is harmful to the Asian American community—and to their brand. Additionally, ad servers must consider how changes in rhetoric can be reflected in their algorithms.
“As consumers are demanding more from brands and businesses, corporate social responsibility is now about brand safety,” said Jay Dennis, Nielsen EVP, Advertisers and Industries. “Nielsen is excited to bring new products and metrics to marketers so that brands can make better decisions to support content that is inclusive and representative, and to avoid placing content adjacent to hate speech.”
About the Asian American community
With a population of 18.9 million, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Since 2000, the Asian American population has increased in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of anti-Asian hate crimes has surged 145% nationally (2020 vs. 2019), according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. These incidents have also risen to alarming rates in such cities as: New York (833%), Philadelphia (200%), Cleveland (200%), San Jose (150%), Boston (133%) and Los Angeles (114%).
“In this evolving digital media landscape and as consumers demand more accountability, brands need to be increasingly diligent about the kinds of platforms their ads appear on and the types of content they support; whether it’s directly or inadvertently,” stated Patricia Ratulangi, Nielsen VP, Global Communications, Diversity Equity & Inclusion. “Companies need to ensure their advertising dollars aren’t fueling anti-Asian sentiment online, which puts Asian American communities at risk.”
“Corporate accountability is more essential than ever to Asian Americans,” said Connie Chung Joe, CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “While it’s certainly not easy, brands will need to take a more conscientious approach towards their digital advertising spending if they want to truly stand with this community. The connection between online hate speech and hate crimes in real life is undeniable.”