A new study published in Frontiers in Communication suggests that the more American citizens trust their daily social media outlet, the more they believe that Chinese Americans are a threat to the United States.
As the world battles with the COVID-19 pandemic, an upsurge in racism and discrimination against Asians has surfaced. In the United States, reports from Asian Americans range from dealing with racial slurs and wrongful termination to being spat on and suffering physical violence.
Previous research points to social media as a “playground for racism”, a troubling suggestion given that the public is relying increasingly on social media as a source of information during this time of physical isolation. Study authors Steven M. Croucher and his team aimed to explore the involvement of social media in the increased prejudice against Chinese people in America.
“To better defend against and rebuild from the virus it is essential we understand how societies are socially responding to the virus,” Croucher and colleagues say. “To what extent are societies and cultural groups blaming each other for its spread? To what extent is social media being used to unite or divide against Covid-19?”
A sample of 274 Caucasian Americans filled out an online survey that measured their perception of threat from Chinese Americans. Symbolic threat was measured by asking subjects to rate statements insinuating that Chinese culture was interfering with the American way of life (e.g. “American identity is threatened because there are too many Chinese today”). Realistic threat was measured by having subjects rate items insinuating that Chinese individuals were a threat to American economic power (e.g. “Because of the presence of Chinese, Americans have more difficulties finding a job”). Additionally, the Intergroup Anxiety Scale measured subjects’ emotional response to ambiguous interactions with Chinese individuals.
Finally, the survey asked participants to identify their most used social media platform and then rate the extent that they feel the outlet is fair, accurate, factual, and concerned about the public.
Results showed that social media had no effect on subjects’ intergroup anxiety scores. However, belief that one’s most used social media is fair, accurate, factual, and concerned about the public was associated with belief that Chinese Americans present both a realistic and symbolic threat to Americans. Additionally, respondents who said they did not use social media every day reported less symbolic threat than those who indicated Facebook as their daily social media outlet.
“The impact of belief in social media on symbolic and realistic threats could reflect social media content during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which resentment about the outcome of COVID-19 is associated with higher levels of prejudice toward the outgroup perceived to be responsible for the virus,” the authors reason.
Interestingly, the results revealed sex differences surrounding Americans’ perceived threats and anxiety towards Chinese Americans. Women scored higher than men on both symbolic threat and realistic threat, indicating that women felt more threatened that Chinese Americans would negatively affect their welfare and economic power.
Men, on the other hand, scored higher than women on intergroup anxiety, which researchers called “a clear indicator that men feel more awkward, irritated, suspicious, anxious, defensive, and self conscious while having communicative interactions with Chinese Americans.” This finding, the authors suggest, could indicate that men feel more threatened by change given their higher status in American patriarchal society.
The authors conclude that social media is contributing to the increased discrimination against Asian Americans and stress that “it is important for future research to look at how Chinese Americans and other groups have been framed/portrayed on social media.”
The study, “Prejudice Toward Asian Americans in the Covid-19 Pandemic: The Effects of Social Media Use in the United States”, was authored by Stephen M. Croucher, Thao Nguyen, and Diyako Rahmani.
(Photo credit: Tim Dennell)