Coronavirus pandemic
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Mask-wearing people cross a road in Central, Hong Kong. Photo: Sam Tsang

Coronavirus: sharing too much information on pandemic may have a negative impact on family relationships, Hong Kong survey finds

  • HKU research on 4,914 people finds pandemic is the most common phone chat topic for nearly 80 per cent of respondents
  • Study results also show elderly people are less likely to check facts before sending information on the health crisis to others
Conversations about Covid-19 have become the norm around Hong Kong dinner tables with no end in sight to the public health crisis, but a new study suggests sharing too much information on the pandemic can have a negative impact on family relationships.

A University of Hong Kong survey commissioned by the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s SMART Family-Link Project polled 4,914 people on their use of messaging app group chats, finding the most common topic of communication for nearly 80 per cent of respondents was the pandemic.

Sending too much coronavirus-related information can cause information overload, according to Dr Kelvin Wang Man-ping, a co-investigator for the School of Public Health project and associate professor at HKU’s School of Nursing.

“If one constantly sends information [about the pandemic], it can cause unhappiness and tension with other family members, who may not be interested in constantly receiving it or could already have other health matters to deal with,” he said.

Pandemic takes ‘deep toll’ on Hongkongers’ mental health, former justice minister says

The negative impact could worsen if the information was not fact-checked properly, Wang added, noting that people who constantly sent Covid-19 messages might also draw negative attention or even rebukes from family members if their sources proved unreliable.

Among respondents aged 65 and above, 75.4 per cent said they always forwarded pandemic information to their family members, though just 63.7 per cent said they typically fact-checked thoroughly before sending it.

By comparison, 80 per cent of those aged 18 to 44 said they always first verified the information was correct.

Messages don’t have to be just about information, but about expressing care and sincerity to your family
Lam Tai-hing, chair professor of community medicine, HKU School of Public Health

“Older people are more likely to send such information to show care to their families,” Wang said. “It’s understandable that the elderly are less likely to fact-check, as they may lack the skills to judge what is accurate. We need to introduce more online literacy programmes to overcome these barriers.”

And while the focus on Covid-19 had grown, families had neglected sending positive messages, the study showed, with expressions of appreciation or “blessings”, a category indicating general well-wishes, the least common topics at 8.3 per cent and 15.6 per cent, respectively.

Covid-19 has become the most-talked-about topic among Hongkongers. Photo: Sam Tsang

Professor Lam Tai-hing, the project’s principal investigator and chair professor of community medicine at the HKU School of Public Health, encouraged people to send more positive messages to their family members to enhance family communication and harmony.

“Messages don’t have to be just about information, but about expressing care and sincerity to your family,” he said.

Run by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, the SMART Family-Link Project is aimed at using technology and data analytics to improve family services.