Australia’s new landscape of post-COVID online opportunity and risk

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has warned we could be facing an elevated incidence of online harms  in the post COVID-19 world, as a landmark report reveals that along with our dramatically increased reliance on the internet, four in 10 Australians had a negative experience online during the first few months of the pandemic. 

The findings come as eSafety welcomes a $10 million funding boost from the Morrison Government, to ensure more Australians have access to vital online safety support. 

The report, conducted in late May, is based on a survey of over 1,200 Australian adults and reveals repeated unwanted contact and unwelcome messages were the most common negative online experiences identified.

Despite this concerning data, most Australians viewed the internet as important or essential during the COVID-19 lockdown, particularly for paying bills and banking (87%), accessing news and information (82%), staying in touch with family and friends (80%), work (75%), entertainment (71%), staying fit and healthy (44%), and buying groceries (39%).

“What this report shows us is that during this extraordinary moment in history the internet has allowed Australians to work, learn and play in ways we probably didn’t think possible before this pandemic and it will continue to change the way we harness technology for the foreseeable future,” eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said.

 “But the data also confirms that while we were all staying home to stop the spread of COVID-19, a significant number of Australians were also having negative experiences online.

“This reinforces what we’ve been seeing during the first few months of this pandemic, with spikes in the numbers of people coming to us for help after being abused online or having intimate images shared without their consent. 

“Even as many of us start to return to our workplaces and schools, these numbers aren’t dropping and it’s looking like this level of online harm could become our ‘new normal’.” 

Australians’ increased use of the internet also looks set to become the new standard, with those surveyed saying they will continue to use the internet for key daily tasks.

During the lockdown, Australians using the internet for one or more particular tasks increased by 56%. 

Now that lockdown is ending, nearly 80% say they will continue to pay bills and do their banking online, 69% will keep using the internetto stay in touch with family and friends, 68% will still use it to stay up to date with news and information, 62% will continue use it for work, and 53% will use it to stay fit and healthy. 

It’s an even more telling story for Parents, who were often twice as likely to use the internet for key tasks online during COVID-19 than households without children. Parents were also twice as likely to feel overloaded with information and three times more stressed having to use the internet than people without children in the house.  

“I’m sure every parent around the country can personally empathise with this statistic, and what this highlights is the prominence the online world plays in modern families,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“This is why it’s so important for parents and children to be equipped with the necessary skills to be safer online and why early conversations in the home about online safety remain mission critical.”

The full report COVID-19 Impacts on the Online Activities and Attitudes of Australian Adults can be found here.

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