For young people, Covid spells more threat for parents than themselves

During the early stages of Covid-19 pandemic, young people thought the deadly disease is a threat to their parents and the elderly but not to themselves, new research shows.

The young adults also felt that Covid falsehoods affected their parents and older relatives more than themselves.

Many of these instances of information sharing were facilitated by messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, said the researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“An important consideration from these findings is how to make young people who think they are not prone to COVID-19 to be still engaging in proactive behaviours against the virus,” said Associate Professor Edson Tandoc Jr.

“Studying initial public reaction towards a health crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic could guide practitioners and social policy makers on how to handle the outbreak in the long term”.

This is even more important during the initial phase of the pandemic, where credible information about the new virus was scarce.

Young Singaporeans were more concerned about the dangers of fake news surrounding COVID-19 rather than the health threat posed by the disease and believed misinformation about the pandemic affected the older generation more than them.

To reach this conclusion, researchers involved eight focus group discussions with 89 participants aged 21 to 27.

Through the focus groups, the team found that rather than actively seeking information about COVID-19, many young adults got their news about the virus from social media platforms and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.

This, in turn, shaped their view that the virus was risky for older generations but not for themselves, which in turn shaped their behavioural response to the outbreak, such as not wearing face masks, which was not mandated in the early stages of the outbreak.

“The results also document how making sense of what is happening in the early stages of a health crisis can go beyond the disease itself and focus more on social order and information quality, which can also shape behaviours,” the study authors noted in a paper published in the peer-reviewed academic journal New Media & Society.

Perceiving the virus as not a big threat to their age group, the participants said that they were more focused on combating the spread of misinformation.

“Fighting misinformation is particularly crucial in a time like this, when information flows quickly through channels like social media and messaging apps, to protect not just ourselves but also others in the community,” Tandoc Jr emphasised.