British adults spent the most time online in lockdown in Europe

British adults had more screen time during lockdown than ANYWHERE else in Europe – spending more than 3.5 hours online each day on average

  • Ofcom has released its Online Nation 2021 report on screen time use  
  • UK adults spent more than 1hr longer online each day than Germany or France 
  • Around half of UK adults visited an adult website or app during the pandemic

British adults spent more time online during lockdown than anywhere else in Europe, a new report by Ofcom has revealed.   

They spent more than 3.5 hours (217 minutes) online each day in 2020 – more than an hour longer than in Germany and France and 30 minutes more than Spain. 

Around half of UK adults – 49 per cent or around 26 million – visited an adult website or app during the pandemic.

The largest, Pornhub, was visited by around a third of online adults (15 million), giving the site a far larger audience than mainstream TV channels including Sky One, ITV4 and BBC News. 

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British adults spent more than 3.5 hours (217 minutes) online each day in 2020 – more than an hour longer than in Germany and France and 30 minutes more than Spain

Ofcom’s Online Nation 2021 report also found that Britons spent nearly £2.45 billion on and in mobile apps across last year – with Tinder, Disney+, YouTube and Netflix topping the list.

Online shopping sales rose by half (48 per cent) to nearly £113 billion in 2020, with food and drinks retailers seeing the biggest increase in sales, up 82 per cent on 2019, followed by household goods, up 76 per cent.

The report shows children’s online buying power is also growing, enabled by digital pocket money apps and pre-paid debit cards.

Around one in eight adult Britons online (12 per cent or six million) and more than one in five (22 per cent) of those aged 15-34 said they used an online dating service before the spring lockdown in 2020.

Tinder was the most popular dating app among young online UK adults – visited by 11 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds in September 2020 – while Plenty of Fish was most popular among the 45-54 age group.

However lockdown saw an increase in romance scams, with money lost to fraudsters increasing by 12 per cent to £18.5 million.

The data reveals that screen time was particularly high among younger Britons, with children aged 15-16 spending a whopping 4 hours 54 minutes online daily on average 

The most popular websites in 2020 

According to Ofcom, the 10 most popular websites visited by Britons in 2020 were:

1. Google

2. Facebook

3. Bytedance

4. Netflix

5. Spotify

6. Snapchat

7. Twitter

8. Roblox

9. Verizon Media

10. Microsoft Sites 

Social video sites and apps are now used by almost all UK adult internet users (97 per cent), and by 92 per cent of three to four-year-olds.

Young adults are particularly heavy users of social video platforms, with 18-24s spending an average of one hour 16 minutes per day on YouTube in September 2020 – an increase of 11 minutes since 2019.

TikTok in particular experienced ‘huge’ growth during the pandemic, Ofcom found, from 3.5 million UK adult visitors in September 2019 to 14 million by March 2021.

TikTok also saw the biggest increase in daily use among young adults, with 18-24s more than doubling their time spent on it in the year to September 2020, up from 17 minutes to 38 minutes.

Despite most platforms setting their minimum user age at 13, nearly two-thirds (59 per cent) of UK children use social media by the time they are 11. By age 15, use increases to 95 per cent, the survey found.

About nine in 10 children aged eight to 15 said social media helped them feel closer to friends during the pandemic. 

But a similar proportion said it prompted popularity pressures. Two-thirds of boys (67 per cent) and three-quarters of girls (77 per cent) aged seven to 16 also agreed that social media could cause worries about body image.

Around half of UK adults – 49 per cent or around 26 million – visited an adult website or app during the pandemic. The largest, Pornhub, was visited by around a third of online adults (15 million)

Tinder was the most popular dating app among young online UK adults – visited by 11 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds in September 2020 – while Plenty of Fish was most popular among the 45-54 age group

More than half of 12 to 15-year-olds reported having a negative experience online in 2020. The most common experience, cited by 30 per cent, was someone they did not know attempting to befriend them online.

A significant minority (18 per cent) had seen something ‘scary or troubling’, or content of a sexual nature that made them uncomfortable (17 per cent).

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director of strategy and research, said: ‘In an unprecedented year, we’ve seen a real acceleration in our migration to online services – which, for many people, have provided a lifeline in lockdown.

‘This research is critical to keep pace with these changes in technology, economics and behaviour, as we prepare to take on new responsibilities for regulating online safety.’

Andy Burrows, NSPCC head of child safety online policy, said: ‘This report makes it clear that for even the youngest children the online world is an integral part of their daily lives, but far too many are being exposed to harmful content and behaviour.

‘And with two thirds of 11-year-olds using social media there’s even more evidence that companies are setting their own rules and not enforcing them.

‘The Online Safety Bill can change this but must be more ambitious. Successful regulation must understand that as children switch from app to app, harm and abuse follow, and compel firms to work with each other to prevent risks that spread rapidly across platforms.’

METHODS FOR PARENTS TO KEEP THEIR CHILDREN SAFE ONLINE

Children as young as two are using social media, research from charity Barnardo’s has suggested.

Internet companies are being pushed to do more to combat harmful content online but parents can also take steps to alter how their children use the web.

Here are some suggestions of how parents can help their children.

Use parental controls

Both iOS and Google offer features that enable parents to filter content and set time limits on apps.

For iOS devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, you can make use of the Screen Time feature to block certain apps, content types or functions.

On iOS 12, this can be done by going to settings and selecting Screen Time.

For Android, you can install the Family Link app from the Google Play Store.

Talk to your children

Many charities, including the NSPCC, say talking to children about their online activity is vital to keep them safe.

Its website features a number of tips on how to start a conversation with children about using social media and the wider internet, including having parents visit sites with their children to learn about them together and discussing how to stay safe online and act responsibly.

Understand their internet usage

There are tools available for parents to learn more about how social media platforms operate.

Net Aware, a website run in partnership by the NSPCC and O2, offers information about social media sites, including age requirement guidance.

Limit screen time 

The World Health Organisation recommends parents should limit young children to 60 minutes of screen time every day.

The guidelines, published in April, suggest children aged between two and five are restricted to an hour of daily sedentary screen time.

They also recommend babies avoid any sedentary screen time, including watching TV or sitting still playing games on devices.

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