Internet users in the UK are increasingly worried about being online, research suggests, with around four in every five harbouring concerns.
The joint study by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office indicates the proportion of adults concerned about using the internet has risen since last year, from 59 per cent to 78 per cent.
Similarly, 61 per cent of adults have had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year. The figure rises to 79 per cent among children aged 12-15.
Most adults (59 per cent) however, agree that the benefits of going online outweigh the risks, and 61 per cent of children think that the internet makes their lives better.
State of the online nation
The findings are included in Ofcom’s first annual Online Nation report – an in-depth study of how people use the Internet. The report examines how people are served by internet content and services, and their attitudes towards being online.
People’s online time is growing by around 7 per cent annually. The average UK adult spent 3 hours 15 minutes per day online last year – a rise of 11 minutes since 2017. That translates to 1,192 hours over the year: the equivalent of around 50 days on the internet.
The internet has transformed our working and social lives, making it easier and cheaper to communicate, and create and share content and information. Each week:
Despite these benefits, most people have also had potentially harmful online experiences. The potential online harms most commonly encountered by adults were unsolicited emails (34 per cent experienced in the past year), fake news (25 per cent) and scams or fraud (22 per cent).
Among children, 39 per cent experienced offensive language online; 28 per cent had received unwelcome friend requests; 23 per cent encountered cyber-bullying; and 20 per cent had encountered trolling.
One of the most popular websites in the UK is YouTube. Some 86 per cent of online adults watch content on the site, with a quarter saying they do so on a daily basis.
Where harm takes place
Ofcom also studied where people come across their most recent potentially harmful experience. Social media is the leading source – in particular Facebook, which is cited by 28 per cent of its adult users, followed by Instagram (16 per cent) and Twitter (12 per cent).
Attitudes to online regulation
Support for greater online regulation also appears to have increased in a range of areas. Most adults favour tighter rules for social media sites (70 per cent in 2019, up from 52 per cent in 2018); video-sharing sites (64 per cent vs 46 per cent); and instant-messaging services (61 per cent vs 40 per cent).
However, nearly half (47 per cent) of adult Internet users recognise that websites and social media platforms play an important role in supporting free speech, even where some people might find content offensive.
Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director of Strategy and Research at Ofcom, said: “As most of us spend more time than ever online, we’re increasingly worried about harmful content – and also more likely to come across it. For most people, those risks are still outweighed by the huge benefits of the internet. And while most Internet users favour tighter rules in some areas, particularly social media, people also recognise the importance of protecting free speech – which is one of the internet’s great strengths.”
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