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

58 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2020 Last revised: 28 Sep 2022

See all articles by Runjing Lu

Runjing Lu

University of Alberta

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. This rise in animus specifically targets Asians and mainly comes from users who use the epithet for the first time. These first-time ch-word users are more likely to have expressed animosity against non-Asian minorities in the past, and their interaction with other anti-Asian individuals predicts the timing of their first ch-word tweets. Moreover, 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. Finally, the pandemic-driven racial animus we documented may persist beyond the duration of the pandemic, as most racist tweets do not explicitly mention the virus.

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, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3646880 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3646880

Runjing Lu (Contact Author)

University of Alberta ( email )

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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