How Racial Animus Forms and Spreads: Evidence from the Coronavirus Pandemic

55 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2020 Last revised: 6 Oct 2021

See all articles by Runjing Lu

Runjing Lu

University of Alberta - Department of Finance

Sophie Yanying Sheng

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 9, 2020

Abstract

This paper studies the formation and the spread of crisis-driven racial animus during the coronavirus pandemic. Exploiting plausibly exogenous variation in the timing of the first COVID-19 diagnosis across US areas, we find that the first local case leads to an immediate increase in local anti-Asian animus, as measured by Google searches and Twitter posts that include a commonly used derogatory racial epithet. The majority of racist tweets come from users who post the epithet for the first time, suggesting that the pandemic affected racial animus at the extensive margin. Racist tweets are predicted by users' interactions with other anti-Asian individuals, highlighting the role of social network in the spread of racial animus. Moreover, 75 percent of the anti-Asian tweets do not explicitly mention the virus, suggesting that the racial animus may persist beyond the duration of the pandemic. Finally, online animosity and offline hate incidents against Asians both increase with the salience of the connection between China and COVID-19; while the increase in racial animus is not associated with the local economic impact of the pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19, Racial animus, Xenophobia, Social media, Hate crime

JEL Classification: J15, D74, I18

Suggested Citation

Lu, Runjing and Sheng, Sophie Yanying, How Racial Animus Forms and Spreads: Evidence from the Coronavirus Pandemic (July 9, 2020). 21st Century China Center Research Paper 2021-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3646880 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3646880

Runjing Lu (Contact Author)

University of Alberta - Department of Finance ( email )

Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2R3
Canada

Sophie Yanying Sheng

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Economics ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0508
United States

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