Corona crisis fuels hate against Chinese on Twitter: Commentary

19/05/2020 - The COVID-19 pandemic has the world firmly in its grip with millions of confirmed cases worldwide and whole countries in full or partial lockdown. Despite calls for solidarity across borders and countless local support initiatives, various incidents prove that the corona outbreak has also given rise to a series of racist attacks against Chinese people and people with Asian looking features both on the streets and in social media networks. A team of researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has now investigated the use of discriminating language against Chinese people in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic on Twitter.
Corona crisis fuels hate against Chinese on Twitter: Commentary
COVID-19 spurred racially profiled hate on Twitter. Photo: Kurfeß/Unsplash

“When normally we analyse societal effects of weather extremes, now we used the corona outbreak as a study case to better understand social responses to extreme events”, explains Leonie Wenz, author and researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).  “Using social media data, we basically counted English language tweets containing a set of key word combinations like Chinese AND Corona AND hate and examined the evolution of this daily tweet count since the corona outbreak”, Annika Stechemesser, co- author and also at PIK, adds. “The picture thus unveiled was quite striking: On March 11th the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic; stock markets around the world crashed –and within the first half of March, the number of offensive tweets in our dataset increased by more than 1000%”, she lays out. The analysis has been published in an outlet of the world-renowned medical journal The Lancet.

Recent research shows a connection between racially profiled online hate speech and racially motivated crime. The stigmatization targeting Chinese people on social media networks might hence pave the way to a sharper increase in physical violence and fuel conflicts between different groups. “This research confirms another message that is spread on social media, and rightly so: That we should stand together and show solidarity and compassion across borders. Especially in times of crisis, it is key to withstand the urge to find a culprit or direct frustration and hatred against specific groups,” Leonie Wenz concludes.

Article: A. Stechemesser, L. Wenz, A. Levermann (2020): Corona crisis fuels racially profiled hate in social media networks. The Lancet – EclinicalMedicine. [DOI:]

Link to the article:

Related research on racism and discrimination in the context of COVID-19: