From Fear to Hate: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Sparks Racial Animus in the United States

38 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2020 Last revised: 22 Jul 2020

See all articles by Runjing Lu

Runjing Lu

University of Alberta - Department of Finance

Yanying (Sophie) Sheng

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

Date Written: July 9, 2020

Abstract

We estimate the effect of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on racial animus as measured by Google searches and Twitter posts that include a commonly used anti-Asian racial slur. Our empirical strategy exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the timing of the first COVID-19 diagnosis across regions in the United States. The first local diagnosis leads to an immediate increase in racist Google searches and Twitter posts, with the Twitter posts mainly from existing Twitter users who post the slur for the first time. This increase could indicate a rise in future hate crimes as we document with historical data a strong correlation between the use of the slur and anti-Asian hate crimes. Moreover, the increase in animosity is directed at Asians rather than at other minority groups and is amplified in the hours and on the days when the connection between the disease and Asians is more salient, as proxied by the number of President Trump’s tweets that mention China and COVID-19 simultaneously. In contrast, the negative economic impact of the pandemic plays little role in the initial increase in racial animus. Our results suggest that delinking a disease and a particular racial group can be an effective way to curb racial animus.

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

JEL Classification: J15, H0, I18

Suggested Citation

Lu, Runjing and Sheng, Yanying (Sophie), From Fear to Hate: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Sparks Racial Animus in the United States (July 9, 2020). 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

Yanying (Sophie) 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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