Social Media, Populism, and COVID-19: Weibo Users’ Reactions to Anti-Chinese Discourse

Theresa Catalano, Peiwen Wang


US government communication about the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the ‘Chinese virus’ discourse adopted by Donald Trump and his administration, has led to real-world violence and triggered heated discussions across social media sites, including Sina Weibo (aka Chinese Twitter). The current study explores the relationship between populism and social media by examining how Sina Weibo users respond to Trump’s communication on the virus. Employing multimodal critical discourse analysis, we examine both visual and verbal strategies used to build counter-discourses that challenge the use of terms such as ‘Chinese virus’. Findings demonstrate the potential of Weibo as a platform of resistance and site where users contest social injustice and racism, but also as a dangerous space in which populist discourses can yield more populist discourses which influence public sentiment and potentially government policies and international relations.

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Studies in Media and Communication      ISSN 2325-8071 (Print)   ISSN 2325-808X (Online)

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