Eight in ten internet users have concerns about going online

18 September 2018

Around eight in ten adult internet users (79%) have concerns about aspects of going online, while almost half (45%) have experienced some form of online harm – according to research carried out by Ofcom with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The survey asked 1,686 internet users over 16 about their attitudes to, and experiences of, online harm across a range of categories.

The findings show:

  • 66% of respondents are concerned about online content;
  • 58% are concerned about data or privacy;
  • 55% are concerned about interactions with other users; and
  • 54% are concerned about hacking or security.

Among these harms, those relating to hacking and security had the biggest negative impact on those who had experienced them.

The research also found that protection of children is the leading area of concern, with potential harms such as exploitation, inappropriate content, and bullying, harassment or trolling cited by some respondents.

Experience of online harm

In total, 45% of respondents said they had experienced online harm. These included, some 20% who said they had received spam emails or communications; 14% had experience of viruses or malicious software; 13% had experienced scams, fraud or identity theft; and 10% had seen fake news or disinformation online.

When it comes to reporting harmful content encountered online, one in five respondents said they had done so, with younger adults more likely to do this. Almost half of those who said they had reported harmful content were aged 16-34, with only 16% over the age of 55. Illegal sexual content is the type of content most likely to be reported, followed by content that promotes terrorism and racism.

Mixed understanding of regulation

The research also looked at respondents’ knowledge and opinion of current levels of regulation for online content, and found understanding was mixed. Some 31% and 30% respectively think social media sites and video-sharing sites are regulated.

While there are mixed views on whether current levels of regulation are sufficient, over half of respondents feel more regulation is needed of social media.

Alongside the research, Ofcom has published a discussion document examining the area of harmful internet content. The document is designed to contribute to the debate on how people might be protected from online harm. It considers how lessons from broadcasting regulation might help to inform work by policymakers to tackle the issue.