Social media users ‘more likely to be involved in coronavirus dispute’


People who rely on social media for coronavirus information are more likely to have been involved in confrontations and reports to the authorities over lockdown rules, research suggests.

They are at least five times as likely to say they have been reported and four times as likely to have been confronted for not wearing a face covering, according to King’s College London (KCL) and Ipsos Mori.

A small minority have challenged others about following the rules too carefully, the researchers found, and one in 12 is no longer speaking to a friend or family member because of disagreements about the pandemic.

The findings are based on 2,237 online interviews with UK residents aged 16-75 between July 17 and 20.

The researchers found that 6% of people said they had been confronted for not wearing a face covering.

This rose to 35% of those who use WhatsApp for a lot of Covid-19 information, 32% who use YouTube, 27% who use Facebook, and 26% who use Twitter.

And 5% said they had been reported to the authorities, rising to 31% who use WhatsApp for a lot of Covid-19 information, 25% for Twitter, 24% for YouTube and 23% for Facebook.

A quarter of people who believe the Government only wants people to wear masks so they can control them said they had been confronted for this reason, and 17% of this group had been reported.

A fifth of people who believe this conspiracy theory said they had confronted someone for sticking to the rules too closely.

Overall, one in 12 people (8%) said they had challenged someone about following the recommended coronavirus measures too carefully.

This rose to around a third of people who use WhatsApp (34%) or Facebook (33%) to get a lot of their information on the pandemic.

More than half (53%) of the population have felt angry about others’ behaviour, while almost a quarter (23%) have had arguments with friends or family about how to behave.

People were more likely to feel angry about other people’s behaviour if they felt coronavirus was a very high risk, felt more anxious or depressed than normal, were certain or very likely to face significant financial difficulties, or got a lot of their information from Twitter.

Those who get a lot of their Covid-19 information from WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were at least four times as likely to say they are no longer on speaking terms with someone close.

A quarter of people who envisage financial problems and nearly one in five (19%) people aged 16-24 also reported having fallen out with someone to this extent.

Louise Smith, senior research associate in KCL’s NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response, said: “People who rely on social media for information about the pandemic, as well as those who believe a conspiracy theory about face masks, were more likely to have reported anger or having been involved in confrontations with others.

“This highlights the importance of combating misinformation on coronavirus and making sure that information published from all sources about coronavirus and protective measures is reliable.”

James Rubin, assistant director of the unit, said: “As restrictions were eased, more people were out and about, making it easier to see who was sticking to the rules and who was not.

“People who think coronavirus poses a greater risk to themselves and to other people in the UK were more likely to have been angry with others’ behaviour during the pandemic.

“Differences in how risky people think coronavirus is could be a source of tension.”

Providing support to people who experience distress and who are worst affected by the pandemic may help mitigate against flashpoints forming and reduce conflict, the unit said.

The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.