Majority of adults and children have previously had harmful online experience

UK Internet users are becoming increasingly worried about being online with four in five concerned about harmful experiences, a new study by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office finds.

61% of consumers admitted to having had a harmful experience online within the last 12 months, whilst 79% of children aged 12 to 15 years said the same.

However, 59% of adults still agree that the benefits of being online outweigh the risks.

Time spent online in the UK is currently growing at around 7% annually with the average adult spending 3 hours and 15 minutes online.

The majority of adults use the Internet to send and receive messages (44 million), whilst 30 million use it to pay bills and 27 million now shop online.

Although the Internet offers convenience within these areas, 34% of respondents complained about previously receiving unsolicited emails, whilst 25% said they saw fake news and 22% added that they had been subjected to scams or frauds.

39% of children experienced offensive language online and 28% were receiving unwelcome friend requests. Another 23% of kids were also subjected to cyber-bullying.

“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,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director of Strategy and Research at Ofcom. “For most people, those risks are still outweighed by 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.”

Social media is the dominant place where harm takes place with Facebook being cited by 28% of adults, followed by Instagram (16%) and Twitter (12%).

At the same time, 40% of adults and 55% of children would agree that social media sites offer the tools needed to stay safe online.

However, overall support for tougher regulation for social media sites has increased from 52% in 2018 to 70% in 2019.

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