How Racial Animus Forms and Spreads: Evidence from the Coronavirus Pandemic
58 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2020 Last revised: 28 Sep 2022
Date Written: July 9, 2020
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: Suggested Citation