Contesting for Consensus: Social Sentiment Towards Fellow Citizens’ COVID-Related Behavior in China
Forthcoming: in Book "Pandemic Narratives in China and the World: Technology, Society, and Nations”, edited by Bingchun Meng, Guobin Yang, and Elaine Yuan
38 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2022
Date Written: February 22, 2022
COVID-19 has profoundly shifted how citizens interact. Private life is frequently displayed in the public space, and individuals are held to account should their exercise of liberty enlarge COVID-19 transmission risks. We are interested in the evolving dynamics among fellow citizens, especially when and how individuals react to others’ COVID-19 related actions and behaviors. An extensive data set of Sina Weibo posts consisting of more than four million COVID-19-related posts provides us with a lens with which to answer the questions. By estimating the general sentiment of Weibo posts from January to December 2020, as well as examining two in-depth case studies, we capture the information flows and discussion volumes in the public space. Combining the machine learning approach with discourse analysis, we find that the psychosocial cycle model identified in past public health emergencies and other societies during the COVID-19 pandemic also occurred in China, though demonstrating unique timing and sequence characteristics that are linked to China’s pandemic situation and policies. The all-society solidarity built at the beginning of 2020 was later challenged, and potentially eroded by the process of moralizing fellow citizens’ COVID-related behavior via blaming, discriminating, and scapegoating. As society lives under the pandemic for longer, fellow citizens have become more aware of problems associated with the unbounded public scrutiny of private life. Such awareness and reflection, herein, encourages discussion and consensus-building efforts.
Keywords: Social solidarity; Cyberspace; COVID-19; China
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