In many ways, COVID-19 has applied a magnifying glass to society, bringing into sharp focus the best parts of humanity, but also highlighting the disadvantage, discrimination and inequality faced by many. This is particularly true on the internet, which has surfaced the forces of prejudice, misogyny and racism that fuel targeted online invective.
The pandemic has revealed not only how fundamental technology has become to the way we work, learn, socialise and access key information and services, but also how online environments can be weaponised to perpetuate abuse.
Nearly four in ten adults (38%) reported a negative online experience during the COVID-19 restrictions in Australia. eSafety saw a spike in reports of all forms of online abuse during the peak months of March and April 2020, as well as significant increases in traffic to the eSafetyWomen domestic and family violence website content.
But even before COVID-19, eSafety was acutely aware of the increased risk some groups and communities face online. By applying a multidimensional or ‘intersectional’ lens to online harms, we recognise that some Australians are at greater risk online.
Regrettably, but undeniably, this includes children and young people, older Australians, women, people with a disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, culturally and linguistically diverse people and people who identify as LGBTQI+.
eSafety has released a new statement — Protecting Voices at Risk Online — which provides evidence and investigative insights into how at-risk communities are targeted online and the programs and resources we currently have available to assist these communities. It also provides insights into our strategic plans for delivering more programs and resources co-designed with these communities to meet their unique needs.
Here is a small snapshot of what is in the report.
Children and young people
- The top three negative online experiences reported by young people include unwanted contact or content (33%), social exclusion (21%) and threats and abuse (21%).
- eSafety is developing a youth engagement strategy to ensure we hear from young people directly on their online safety needs and that our services and programs reflect a youth voice.
- Senior Australians aged 70 years and older are the least represented population online, with 3 out of 4 (digitally disengaged) reporting low to no digital literacy.
- eSafety has developed 145 comprehensive bespoke digital literacy modules for seniors through the BeConnected program. Going forward, eSafety is developing strategies to support culturally and linguistically diverse older Australians and a guide for grandparents and carers.
- Women are 1.6 times more likely to experience abuse based on their gender and are 1.5 times more likely to experience abuse based on their physical appearance.
- eSafety has developed targeted initiatives for women experiencing technology-facilitated abuse as an extension of domestic violence. Programs have also been developed for women whose professional lives put them in the public eye and places them at greater risk of personal, sexual and gendered abuse online. These will be adapted for women in different sectors and at-risk communities.
People with disability
- Over half of people with disability requiring assistance with their daily living activities or communication needs have experienced image-based abuse.
- eSafety is developing advice and support for frontline workers supporting women with an intellectual disability and or communication difficulties and will release further research in this area.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are twice as likely to experience image-based abuse (50%) as non-Indigenous Australians (22%).
- eSafety already has resources including Your Online Journey and Be Deadly Online and is developing resources to support Elders to recognise, call out and manage technology-facilitated abuse and the impacts of online abuse and fight videos in their communities.
Cultural and linguistically diverse people
- Almost one in five people (19%) who speak a language other than English at home have experienced image-based abuse compared to only 11% of people who speak English only.
- eSafety has developed CALD resources in the areas of parenting guides and for technology facilitated abuse directed at women. eSafety is expanding these resources to raise community awareness that depictions of people without attire of religious or cultural significance can be a form of image-based abuse.
- People who identify as LGBTQI+ experience online hate speech at more than double the national average (30% compared to 14%).
- eSafety has an image-based abuse quick guide for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer and/ or intersex people and is developing detailed advice on how to deal with adult cyber abuse and online hate, including homophobic, transphobic, racist and/or sexist abuse, for LGBTQI+ adults from a range of different backgrounds.
Parts of the report make for sobering and, sometimes, disappointing reading.
The challenges of protecting those most at-risk are numerous and ever-changing. There are no simple or easy solutions, for what are often structural and systemic issues.
But eSafety is firmly committed to tackling these complex issues. We have and continue to build the research and evidence base for decreasing risk and increasing resilience online. We have strong relationships, based on collaboration and co-design, with the communities we are proud to serve.
Rather than providing a blueprint, our hope is that our research and future work will remain responsive and innovative as we continually improve our strategies for protecting those who are most at risk online.
Together, we can work towards a more positive and inclusive online world – one in which all Australians are able to participate online, access critical online safety advice and get the support they need and deserve.