Twitter during COVID-19: George Floyd Opening a Space to Address Systematic and Institutionalized Racism?
20 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2021 Last revised: 22 Apr 2021
Date Written: January 12, 2021
Purpose: Racism was a high-profile issue during the COVID-19 pandemic even before the killing of George Floyd and international Black Lives Matter protests and reactions. This article investigates early English-language COVID-19-related discussions of racism on Twitter to assess whether they affected the strength of the George Floyd protests.
Design/methodology/approach: Tweets mentioning COVID-19 were gathered from 10 March to 5 June 2020 and investigated with time series graphs and word association thematic analysis.
Findings: There were four main phases of racism discussions: right wing “Chinese virus” comments; Donald Trump’s “Chinese virus” comments; discussions of high ethnic minority COVID-19 death rates; and reactions to the George Floyd killing. Tweets about the first three issues increased at the start of the George Floyd protests, suggesting that they fed into them. Despite the huge increase in tweeting about racism after George Floyd, only 12% of tweets mentioned him or Black Lives Matter, with the remainder often making more general anti-racism statements. Thus, the killing of George Floyd seems to have opened a large scale social media space for public generalizations about systematic and institutionalized racism.
Originality: This is the first large-scale systematic study of the evolution of discussions of racism on Twitter during COVID-19.
Keywords: Racism, Social Media, Twitter, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19
JEL Classification: A00, H00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation