The easing of lockdown revealed anger and arguments about the Covid-19 crisis among people in the UK, even leading to some no longer being on speaking terms with family and friends and to confrontations between members of the public, a new study has found.
The research, by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, has been published in a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Among the findings are that people who get a great deal of information on coronavirus from social media are more likely to have been involved in confrontations and reports to the authorities over the lockdown rules, and that a small minority have confronted others for following the rules too carefully.
The findings are based on 2,237 interviews with UK residents aged 16-75, carried out online between 17 and 20 July 2020.
Coronavirus as a source of anger
- Over half the population (53%) say they’ve felt angry with other people they know because of their behaviour in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. This rises to even higher levels among certain groups, including:
- People who get a great deal of information on Covid-19 from Twitter (69%).
- People who see coronavirus as a very high risk to people in the UK (64%) and to themselves personally (62%).
- People who say they’ve felt more anxious and depressed than normal (63%) and who find coronavirus stressful (67%).
- People who say they are certain or very likely to face significant financial difficulties because of disruption caused by coronavirus (61%).
- Nearly a quarter of the population (23%) say they’ve had arguments with friends or family about how to behave during the pandemic.
- This more than doubles to half (49%) of those who get a lot of their information on coronavirus from WhatsApp, while those who get their information from other social media platforms such as Twitter (44%), Facebook (42%) and YouTube (42%) are also much more likely to have argued.
- Money worries could be a source of tension too, as 42% of people who think they’re certain or very likely to experience financial problems have argued.
- The likelihood of having had such arguments declines with age, with 16-34-year-olds (36%) more likely than 35-54-year-olds (24%) to have done so.
- One in 12 people (8%) say they are no longer speaking to a friend or family member because of disagreements about the pandemic.
- Those who get a lot of information on Covid-19 from WhatsApp (39%), Twitter (37%), YouTube (34%) or Facebook (32%) are four or more times as likely to say they’re no longer on speaking terms with someone close.
- A quarter (25%) of people who envisage experiencing financial problems and one in five (19%) people aged 16-24 also report having fallen out with someone to this extent.
This anger has escalated to confrontations for some, again with greater social media use and concerns about money associated with involvement in such flashpoints…
Coronavirus as a source of confrontation
- Nearly one in five people (18%) have confronted someone for not staying a sufficient distance away from others or for being in too large a group.
- This doubles, to 37%, among those who think they’re certain or very likely to face financial difficulties because of Covid-19.
- One in 12 people (8%) say they’ve confronted someone for not wearing a face mask, while one in 20 (5%) say they’ve reported someone to the authorities for not doing so.
- One in 12 people (8%) say they’ve confronted someone for following the recommended measures too carefully.
- 34% of those who get a lot of information on the pandemic from WhatsApp and 33% who use Facebook to the same extent say they’ve confronted someone over this.
- Belief in the conspiracy theory that the government only wants us to wear face masks as a way of controlling us is also associated with confronting someone for sticking to the rules too closely, with 21% of believers saying they’ve done so.
- Just over one in 20 (6%) report having been confronted themselves for not wearing a face mask, and one in 20 (5%) say they’ve been reported to the authorities for failing to do so.
- People who believe the government only wants the public to wear masks as a means of control are much more likely to say they’ve been confronted (25%) or reported (17%) for this reason.
- People who use social media a great deal for information on the pandemic are at least four times as likely to say they have been confronted for failing to wear a mask and at least five times as likely to say they’ve been reported for this.
- One in 11 people (9%) say that they’ve been confronted for following the rules too carefully.
- Those who think they’ve had Covid-19 or have had it confirmed by a test (21%) are twice as likely to say they’ve been confronted for this reason.
- One in 12 people (8%) say they’ve been confronted for getting too close to others or being in too big a group.
- This rises to one in five (21%) among people who say they’ve not been keeping two metres away from others while outside.
Finally, while Covid-19 has been a source of anger and disputes for many, there are signs that the pandemic has at the same time brought some people together, with 37% saying they feel closer to their neighbours or local community than they did before the crisis began.
Dr Louise Smith, senior research associate in the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London, said:
“More than half of people said they had felt angry with someone because of how they were behaving during the Covid-19 pandemic. 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 combatting misinformation on coronavirus and making sure that information published from all sources about coronavirus and protective measures is reliable.
“Younger people and those who may face greater significant financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic were more likely to have experienced anger or have been involved in confrontations. While these groups may have been out of the home more, increasing the opportunity for conflict with others, in many ways they have also been the hardest hit by the restrictions put in place to deal with the crisis. Inequalities within the population during emergencies often lead to tension. Increasing support for those worst affected may help to reduce conflict within the community.”
Dr James Rubin, assistant director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London, said:
“Covid-19 has caused – or revealed – tension within the population. As restrictions were eased, more people were out and about, making it is 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.
“People who reported feeling more anxious and depressed than normal and who found the pandemic stressful were also more likely to have experienced anger. Providing support to people who experience distress because of the pandemic may not only impact positively on wellbeing, but may also help mitigate against flashpoints forming.”
Kelly Beaver, managing director of public affairs at Ipsos MORI, said:
“We know from our other research with King’s College London that even though lockdown measures were eased over the summer, many people were still finding it stressful, and felt it was having a negative impact on their mental wellbeing. These findings indicate that this could have been related to the confrontations and arguments people were having about the coronavirus with friends and family as well as with others. This suggests that we shouldn’t forget about people’s emotional wellbeing – particularly for the most vulnerable – in the wider recovery, as well as the economic and health impacts. Having said that, the fact that just over one in three say they feel a closer connection to their local community than they did before means there is something to build on.”
Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,237 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom using its online i:omnibus between 17 and 20 July 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All surveys are subject to a range of potential sources of error.
For further details and results of statistical analyses investigating factors associated with anger and confrontation, see “Anger and confrontation during the COVID-19 pandemic; a national cross-sectional survey in the UK” by Louise Smith, Bobby Duffy, Vivienne Moxham-Hall, Lucy Strang, Simon Wessely and James Rubin, is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (DOI: 10.1177/0141076820962068).