Internet users increasingly concerned about being online

Thursday, 6 June, 2019

Internet users in the UK are increasingly worried about being online, with four-in-five expressing such concerns, despite the fact we spend, on average, 50 days a year online.

The findings are included in Ofcom’s most recent State of the Nation report on our internet habits and use. The report is developed in conjunction with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

According to their research, the proportion of adults concerned about the internet has risen over the last 12 months from 58% to 78%. And these concern stems from experience with 61% of adults saying they had had a potentially harmful online incident. This figure rises to an alarming 79% among children aged 12-15 years old.

Despite these genuine concerns 59% of those adults agree that the benefits of going online outweigh the risks. While 61% of children think that the internet makes their lives better.

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 outweighed 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.

- Yih-Choung Teh: Group Director of Strategy and Research, Ofcom

According to the report our online time is growing by around 7% each year. The average UK adult spends 3 hours 15 minutes per day online last year, an increase of 11 minutes since 2017. That translates to 1,192 hours over the year, or the equivalent of 50 days spent online.

The most common potentially harmful experience for users were unsolicited emails, fake news and scams or fraud. Social media is the leading source for harmful incidents with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the most commonly cited.

Among children Ofcom found a significant 39% experienced offensive language online while 28% had received unwelcome friend requests and 23% encountered some form of cyber-bullying.

As a consequence, 70% of adults favour tighter rules for social media sites. 64% want better controls over video-sharing sites and 61% the same for instant-messaging services. This was in contrast to the 40% of adults who agreed that websites and social media sites already provided the tools needed to keep them safe.

Set alongside these concerns, almost half of respondents recognise the internet and social media has an important role to play in supporting free speech. Even if the content might be offensive and potentially harmful.

It’s a given that the internet has transformed our lives but the figures are quite staggering. According to Ofcom 44 million of us use the internet to send or receive email while 29 million send instant messages. 30 million bank or pay bills through the internet and 27 million shop online. Transformative indeed.

Image: Lucelia Ribeiro

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.