Adults’ negative online experiences jump by 30%

New research by the eSafety Commissioner has revealed 75 per cent of Australian adults have had at least one negative online experience in the past 12 months, an increase of 30 per cent compared to 2019.

Released on the 20th annual Safer Internet Day, a global day of action to raise awareness of online safety issues, the research canvassed the online experiences of 4,783 Australians aged 18 to 65 years.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the most common negative experiences were receiving unwanted inappropriate content, such as pornographic or violent material (32%), being called offensive names (30%), or personal information being misused, such as a photo being shared without consent (25%)*.

“Our research reveals a disturbing escalation in negative experiences online, with reports of electronic tracking without consent, impersonation, and threats of real-world harm and violence almost doubling compared to 2019,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“Almost one in five Australian adults reported at least one of these experiences in the last 12 months, suggesting perpetrators of abuse are increasingly emboldened.”

The research also showed a significant increase in the number of adults who report treating others badly online, up from one in 8 in 2019 to one in 6 in the past 12 months. Reasons given for targeting people included for fun or amusement and to punish or shame the target.

“Allowing harassment and abuse to go unchecked risks further normalising these harmful behaviours,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“Online platforms and services have a responsibility to enforce their terms of service and to proactively build in safety features from the outset, such as using sophisticated AI and machine learning tools that detect harmful material.

“But that doesn’t negate our personal responsibility to reflect on the consequences of our online actions. While some people might feel throwaway nasty or offensive comments are no big deal, they can cause real-world harm to individuals. On a macro level they can fuel divisions that tear at the fabric of society.”

Just under one in three adults said their negative online experiences impacted their emotional and mental wellbeing, and about one in six said it impacted their physical health.

“We cannot leave our children and future generations a world where abuse and hate drown out tolerance and respect. One of the most important things we can do is moderate our own online behaviour and support others experiencing online harm by checking in with them and encouraging them to report it to the platform or to,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“We’re urging all Australians to connect, reflect and protect this Safer Internet Day, and every day.

“Connect safely by keeping apps and devices secure and regularly review your privacy settings. Reflect on how your actions may affect others or jeopardise your own safety. And protect yourself and loved ones by visiting for advice and support, or to report serious online abuse.”

Read the research findings.

*Data does not include experiences with scams, online fraud, or device virus/malware.

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