26 September 2023

Online world growing unpleasant for Aussies

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A “disturbing escalation” in negative online experiences has been reported by the eSafety Commissioner, with three quarters of the country’s adult population having faced an unpleasant or harmful situation.

Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said new research found that 75 per cent of Australian adults had had at least one negative online experience in the past 12 months, a 30 per cent increase compared to 2019.

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

“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.”

She said the research also showed a significant increase in the number of adults who reported treating others badly online, up from one in eight in 2019 to one in six in the past 12 months.

Ms Inman Grant said perpetrators’ reasons for targeting people included for fun or amusement, and to punish or shame the target.

“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,” the Commissioner said.

“But that doesn’t negate our personal responsibility to reflect on the consequences of our online actions,” she said.

“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.”

Ms Inman Grant said that just under one in three adults reported that their negative online experiences impacted their emotional and mental wellbeing, and about one in six said it impacted their physical health.

She urged all Australians to connect safely by keeping apps and devices secure and regularly reviewing their privacy settings; reflect on how their actions may affect others or jeopardise their own safety; and protect themselves and their loved ones.

“We cannot leave our children and future generations a world where abuse and hate drown our tolerance and respect.”

Further information on the eSafety research can be accessed at this PS News link.

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