Stop the blame game: An analysis of blaming on Weibo during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in rice and wheat areas in China

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In the pandemic era, social media has provided the public with a platform to make their voice heard. One of the most important public opinions online during a pandemic is blame. Blame can lead to stigma towards patients as well as potential patients and decrease social cooperation, which might impede prevention and control measures during epidemics. Thus, studying online blame during the early days of COVID-19 can facilitate the management and control of future pandemics. By analyzing 3791 posts from one of the most popular social media sites in China (Weibo) over the 10 days immediately after COVID-19 was declared to be a communicable disease, we found that there were four main agents blamed online: Individuals, corporations, institutions, and the media. Most of the blame targeted individual agents. We also found that there were regional-cultural differences in the detailed types of blamed individual agents, that is, between rice- and wheat-farming areas in China. After controlling influence of distance from the epicenter of Wuhan, there were still stable differences between regions: people in wheat areas had a higher probability of blaming agentic, harmful individuals, and people in rice areas had a higher probability of blaming individuals with low awareness of social norms for preventive health behavior. Findings have implications for preventing and predicting blame across cultures in future pandemics.

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Social and Personality Psychology Compass



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