harmful content

Online Use Continues to Grow, And So Do User Concerns

A United Kingdom annual study shows internet use continues to grow at a steady pace, while concerns by online users about email spam, scams, violent videos, cyber-bullying and hate speech have spiked. The report adds more fuel to the debate over government regulation of the internet.

A United Kingdom annual study shows internet use continues to grow at a steady pace, while concerns by online users about email spam, scams, violent videos, cyber-bullying and hate speech have spiked. The report adds more fuel to the debate over government regulation of the internet.

Internet use continues to increase. So are concerns about the Internet.

A study by Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s communications regulator, shows average UK adult time online has risen to 3 hours and 15 minutes, an increase of 7 percent per year. Its annual report, Online Nation, said user concern over the internet rose from 59 percent to 78 percent last year.

The report indicates 61 percent of adults claimed to have a potentially harmful online experience in the past year. More than three-fourths of young online users between 12 and 15 years old made the same claim.

Government regulation of the internet has become a hot topic, fueled in large part by privacy concerns and abuses linked to Facebook.  The Conversation  published a recent essay headlined, “It’s time for a new way to regulate social media platforms,” which explores various approaches, some of which are advocated by the leaders of high tech firms, to protect our digital town squares.

Government regulation of the internet has become a hot topic, fueled in large part by privacy concerns and abuses linked to Facebook. The Conversation published a recent essay headlined, “It’s time for a new way to regulate social media platforms,” which explores various approaches, some of which are advocated by the leaders of high tech firms, to protect our digital town squares.

Sharply higher rates of concern, especially about harmful content, have caught the attention of regulators, not just in the UK, but also in the United States.

Yih-Choung Teh, group director of strategy and research at Ofcom, said, “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. For most people, those risks are still outweighed by the huge benefits of the internet. And while most internet users favor tighter rules in some areas, people also recognize the importance of protecting free speech, which is one of the internet’s great strengths.” 

Spam emails top the list of potential harms experienced by internet users. Close behind are experiences with fake news, scams, offensive language, violent videos, unwelcome friend requests and offensive videos or pictures. Users also are perturbed by misleading advertising, viruses and hate speech. Social media was cited as the biggest offender.

Almost four in 10 young internet users reported encounters with offensive language, 23 percent said they experienced cyber-bullying and 20 percent had been trolled. 

Despite all that, the study showed nearly 60 percent of UK’s 44 million internet users think benefits outweigh risks. Slightly more young people agree, saying the internet makes their lives better.

Growing internet usage along with growing concerns about what happens online will surely add fuel to the debate over whether and how much the government should regulate online content.