Adults’ negative online experiences

Online, we all face the prospect of having or witnessing any number of negative experiences. This research shows that building digital resilience to help address these negative experiences is an important, life-long challenge.

In Australia, most adults will have to deal with a negative online experience — and some groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those identifying as LGBTQI+ are more likely to face online challenges than others.  

This research is based on a survey of more than 3,700 Australian adults aged 18 to 65 and covers the 12 month period to August 2019.

Key findings  

Personal negative online experiences

  • 67% of Australian adults had a negative experience online in the 12 months to August 2019. The range of experiences are diverse, including repeated unwanted messages or online contact (such as pornography or violent content), scams, viruses, hate speech, abuse and threats.  
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to have a negative experience than others. Depending on the issue, people identifying as LGBTQI+, those speaking a language other than English at home and people living with a disability also had higher than average negative online experiences.  
  • Facebook was the most commonly noted platform for negative online experiences (those experienced, witnessed and perpetrated), followed by email and SMS/MMS.
  • When Australian adults recalled their negative online experience:
    • 45% thought it had been carried out by a stranger, 29% didn't know who did it
    • 60% reported no effect while around 25% experienced mental or emotional distress — this was higher for those identifying as LGBTQI+ (45%) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (38%)
    • the top three responses for those taking action were blocking the person/account (36%), speaking to family/friends (32%) and reporting to the website or social media company (30%).

Bystander experiences

  • Just over half of Australian adults (51%) were bystanders to the negative online experience of an adult family member, close friend or colleague in the 12 months to August 2019.
  • Around 70% of people who witnessed a negative online experience took no action.

Behaving negatively online towards others

  • Around 12% of adults were estimated to have behaved negatively online to someone in the 12 months to August 2019. Around 95% of those people were also the target of a negative online experience during the same period.
  • The top three most cited behaviours included repeatedly sending someone unwanted messages (50% of those behaving negatively online), calling someone offensive names online (37%) and saying things online to provoke or start an argument (35%).