Individualism During Crises: Big Data Analytics of Collective Actions amid COVID-19

Paper by Bo Bian et al: “Collective actions, such as charitable crowdfunding and social distancing, are useful for alleviating the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, engagements in these actions across the U.S. are “consistently inconsistent” and are frequently linked to individualism in the press. We present the first evidence on how individualism shapes online and offline collective actions during a crisis through big data analytics. Following economic historical studies, we leverage GIS techniques to construct a U.S. county-level individualism measure that traces the time each county spent on the American frontier between 1790 and 1890. We then use high-dimensional fixed-effect models, text mining, geo-distributed big data computing and a novel identification strategy based on migrations to analyze GoFundMe fundraising activities as well as county- and individual-level social distancing compliance.

Our analysis uncovers several insights. First, higher individualism reduces both online donations and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. An interquartile increase in individualism reduces COVID-related charitable campaigns and funding by 48% and offsets the effect of state lockdown orders on social distancing by 41%. Second, government interventions, such as stimulus checks, can potentially mitigate the negative effect of individualism on charitable crowdfunding. Third, the individualism effect may be partly driven by a failure to internalize the externality of collective actions: we find stronger results in counties where social distancing generates higher externalities (those with higher population densities or more seniors). Our research is the first to uncover the potential downsides of individualism during crises. It also highlights the importance of big data-driven, culture-aware policymaking….(More)”.