Yanying (Sophie) Sheng (class of 2016) publishes research on racial animus during the COVID pandemic

Yanying (Sophie) Sheng (class of 2016) and her coauthor, Running Lu, published a new paper “How Racial Animus Forms and Spreads: Evidence from the Coronavirus Pandemic” in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, one of the top field journals in economics. 

Motivated by the spike of anti-Asian hate incidents across the United States since 2020, this paper studies the formation and the spread of racial animus driven by the public health crisis. Sophie and her coauthor focus on studying the online expression of anti-Asian sentiment by measuring the use of the c-word (“chink” or “chinks”) in Google searches and tweets from different areas in the U.S. using historical data. The researchers demonstrate that these forms of expressions, albeit milder than documented hate crimes, correlate strongly with actual anti-Asian crimes. It is thus important to understand the nature of these online expressions and the factors behind them.

This paper documents a sizable rise of searches and tweets using the c-word after the first local COVID diagnosis. In addition to the rise in quantity, these expressions are highly associated with anger and hatred, implying a substantive negative shift in sentiment. Importantly, they find the rise in such tweets is primarily driven by users posting the c-word for the first time, rather than those who expressed anti-Asian sentiment in the past—suggesting a spread of the negative sentiment within the society. 

Among other findings, the researchers show that the rise in such online expression of racial animus is primarily associated with social factors rather than economic loss. The c-word users tend to have a strong connection with other anti-Asian users, and have no systematic association with areas suffering from big economic losses during the pandemic.

Sophie graduated from Bates, majoring in Economics and Mathematics. She received her Ph.D. in economics from UC San Diego, and is now an economist at LinkedIn. Her coauthor on this study, Runjing Lu, is an assistant professor of Finance at the Alberta School of Business.

Please read more about their paper in the blog post here and their paper here.