Australian internet users globally switched on

Increased internet usage is leading to a more globally aware and politically engaged society, according to a poll conducted by the Australian National University (ANU).

The ANU study – The Internet and Civil Society – demonstrates that frequent internet usage is leading to a more globally aware Australia. Half of the respondents said that the internet had helped them to connect with people from other countries, and a third said the internet had helped them interact with races different from their own.

70% of respondents who use the internet at least once a day felt that it was important to help others worse off than themselves to be a good citizen.

"Frequent internet users were less willing than infrequent internet users to accept that traditional norms of citizenship such as obeying laws and regulations, serving on a jury if called and being active in voluntary organisations are very important in order to be a good citizen," the report said.

While only one in four respondents had visited websites of political organisations, the study found that “Those who use the Internet more frequently are also more likely to be involved in offline political activity such as contacting a local politician, signing a petition or buying products for a political reason. These findings show that internet use is linked with promoting offline and online political engagement. However, only one in five of frequent internet users had forwarded electronic messages that had political content. The study concluded that “online political activity is complementing, rather than replacing, traditional forms of political activity.”

According to ANU, the poll “shows that far from increasing social isolation because users are in front of a computer screen, the Internet is actually having a positive effect on civil society.”

More than half of the respondents maintained that they use the internet at least once, or several times a day, and a total of 82% of Australian households have internet access. This is compared with 73% of households in the UK, and 77% in the US.

Other recent studies in Australia have shown that the time we spend on the internet is on the rise, with users clocking up over three hours per day online.