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More Australians are treating others badly online – and admitting it!

08:00am February 07 2023

One in six Australians aged between 18 and 65 years admitted to having treated someone else badly online in the last 12 months, according to research by the government body eSafety.  (Getty)

Digital businesses have a clear obligation to protect their customers but, as we mark this 20th Safer Internet Day, I’m also calling on individuals to play a role in creating a better, more respectful online world.

eSafety has published new research that reveals one in six Australians aged 18 to 65 years have treated someone else badly online in the last 12 months. That’s about 3 million people, a 30 per cent jump compared to 2019.

Australian adults who report treating others badly were more likely to be younger (72 per cent were aged 18 to 39), to be men (66 per cent) and to live in metro areas (87 per cent).

While many of their victims are strangers (34 per cent), they also targeted people close to them, including real-life friends (18 per cent), family members (12 per cent), partners (10 per cent) and ex-partners (10 per cent).

Banks including Westpac have exercised real leadership in this area, working with us to implement Safety by Design measures that make their platforms harder for perpetrators to misuse – for example, by sending malicious messages with online payments.

But we can all play a role by supporting each other online and standing up to bullies.

Safer Internet Day is a global day of action to raise awareness of online safety issues, and this year we want all Australians to pledge to ‘connect, reflect and protect’ whenever they’re online.  

Connect safely by keeping apps and devices secure and regularly review your privacy settings.

Reflect on how your actions may affect others or jeopardise your own safety.

Protect yourself and your loved ones by visiting for advice and support, or to report serious online abuse.

At eSafety, we know all too well through our reporting schemes that some perpetrators of online abuse are motivated by malice and cruelty. We see reports of doxing, impersonation, threats of violence and rape, and the sexual extortion of children as young as 10.

But this new research suggests many others may be acting more thoughtlessly than maliciously, perhaps oblivious to the harmful impact of their behaviour. Among the most common reasons for treating someone else badly online was ‘to express an opinion’ (26 per cent) and ‘for fun or amusement’ (22 per cent).

To say people simply need to ‘toughen up’ in the face of abuse or aggression fails to recognise how interconnected our online and offline worlds have become. The internet is not just a place to post holiday pictures or play games. It’s a place where we work, learn and live.

We all have a responsibility to help shape an online world that actively discourages vitriol and hate, fostering respect and inclusion instead.

Westpac has more information and resources on how you can keep your loved ones safe online on its website. 


Julie Inman Grant was appointed Australia’s eSafety Commissioner in 2017, leading the world’s first government regulatory agency committed to keeping its citizens safer online. She brings to the role extensive experience in the government, non-profit and tech sectors, including 17 years with Microsoft ultimately as Global Director for Safety & Privacy Policy and Outreach; and with Twitter, driving the company’s policy, safety and philanthropy programs across Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. As eSafety Commissioner, Julie also Chair’s the Child Dignity Alliance’s Technical Working Group and is on the board of the WePROTECT Global Alliance.

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