UK adults are now spending more than a quarter of their waking day online thanks to the coronavirus lockdown – the highest figure on record.
People in the UK aged 18 and over spent an average of just over four hours a day online during lockdown, broadcast regulator Ofcom has revealed.
The figures come from its latest Online Nation report for April, which polled respondents at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK.
The results provide a snapshot of Brits’ reliance on the internet to keep us occupied in the midst of lockdown measures, which are being eased again on July 4.
However, Ofcom believes the lockdown could leave a ‘lasting digital legacy’ that makes us even more tied to our screens than before.
Adults spending record four hours a day online on average, due to the changes brought on by the coronavirus
More people have learnt to use social media platforms like TikTok and WhatsApp to keep in touch, while video chat service Zoom could see sustained peaks in user numbers if employees opt to keep working from home post-pandemic.
Lockdown has also meant we’re turning to digital platforms to create and share our own homemade video content, while one in three of us are now opting for online television over traditional broadcast TV.
‘Coronavirus has radically changed the way we live, work and communicate online, with millions of people using online video services for the first time,’ said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s director of strategy and research.
‘As the way we communicate evolves and people broaden their online horizons, our role is to help ensure that people have a positive experience, and that they’re safe and protected.’
Twice as many people in the UK are using video calls to keep in touch with friends and colleagues during lockdown
Ofcom said the average of just over four hours a day online by UK adults is up from the 3.5 hours recorded in September last year.
According to the report, UK visitors to video-sharing app TikTok have more than doubled – from 5.4 million in January to 12.9 million in April.
The proportion of UK adults online making video calls has also doubled during lockdown, with seven in 10 people now using such services at least weekly.
This increase has been most noticeable among older internet users, Ofcom said, many of whom have turned to the technology for the first time.
The proportion of Brits aged 65 and over making at least one video call a week has jumped from 22 per cent in February to 61 per cent in May.
Meanwhile, Houseparty, the app which combines group video-calls with games and quizzes, grew from 175,000 adult visitors in January to 4 million in April.
One in three adults now watch online video more than traditional TV on platforms such as YouTube and Netflix
A NATION OF ‘CONTENT CREATORS’
Sites and apps such as YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, which allow people to create, upload and share videos online, have ‘never been so popular’, Ofcom said.
Nine in 10 online adults, and almost all older children aged 8-15, used at least one of these websites and apps in the last year.
About a third (32 per cent) of online adults now spend more time viewing video-sharing services than broadcast television.
40 per cent of adults and 59 per cent of older children who use video-sharing sites and apps now create and upload their own videos, driving an explosion in short-form, user-generated content.
But Ofcom said the biggest increase was seen on video conferencing platform Zoom, which rose from 659,000 UK users in January to 13 million in April.
The video platform has been one of the most popular services globally during the pandemic, as millions looked for ways to work and study from home, as well as catch up with friends and family.
The coronavirus has also turned the UK into a ‘nation of content creators’ as more people are creating and sharing video content.
Meanwhile, 32 per cent of online adults now spend more time viewing video-sharing services than broadcast television.
The report also highlighted a change in communication habits, with people moving away from established forms of communication, such as landline calls and SMS messages, in favour of platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Online voice calls on such platforms are now nearly as popular as mobile phone calls, it said.
Ofcom has also flagged its concerns over online safety, especially for young children who are suddenly using video and messaging apps to keep in touch with friends and keep up with school assignments.
87 per cent of adults said they had concerns over children using video-sharing websites and other apps such as TikTok, WhatsApp and Instagram.
Although trust in sites to remove illegal and harmful content has risen among UK adults, more than half – 57 per cent – of adults said they support greater regulation of such platforms.
Ofcom said it is ready to issue fines and penalties against social media firms, MPs have been told
However, this figure is down on 64 per cent who said they supported greater regulation in 2019.
Ofcom said on Tuesday that it is prepared to issue strong penalties against social media firms that fail in their duty of care to users.
Internet platforms could face fines and ‘sanctions for directors’ if the body is appointed online regulator, its chief executive has told MPs.
Dame Melanie Dawes, chief executive of Ofcom since February this year, said financial penalties need to be part of the sanctions included in Online Harms regulation currently being prepared by the government.
She also said that Ofcom could use existing penalties such as a disruption of service temporarily’ against sites who fail to protect users.
Dame Melanie praised social media platforms, however, acknowledging them as a ‘lifeline’ for young people during lockdown and enabling them to stay in touch with family and friends.