The report asked whether virtual contacts (made over the internet) are less important than personal ones in building a strong society, and whether a reliance on virtual over personal contact had implications for the quality of citizenship.
In his foreword to the report, ANU vice-chancellor, Professor Ian Young, stated that,
“The results from ANUpoll are largely positive, and counter the pessimistic view that the Internet is undermining effective social relations and good citizenship.
Frequent Internet users are not more socially disengaged than their counterparts who rely on personal interaction. They are at least as good citizens, and report similar or higher levels of social capital."
Some of the key findings from the report included:
Household Internet use
- A total of 82 per cent of respondents reported having broadband access with only two per cent saying that they have dial-up access (2 per cent did not know and 12 per cent did not have internet access at home)
- Around two-thirds of respondents said they use the Internet at least once a day.
- Nearly two-thirds of Australians reported knowing how to use the Internet to download audio,
video and image files.
- 21 per cent of respondents indicated they had used the Internet to design a webpage or a blog.
- 35 per cent of respondents said that the Internet helped them interact with people of a different race from their own.
- Just over half (54 per cent) of respondents said that the Internet helped them interact with people from other countries.
- A relatively small percentage of respondents (15 per cent) felt the Internet helped them interact with people who share the same political views.
- 59 per cent of respondents felt the Internet helped them interact with people who they shared hobbies with.
- The report concluded that frequent Internet use does not necessarily lead to a more atomised and individualistic society.
- 70 per cent of frequent Internet users felt that to be a good citizen it was very important to support people who are worse off than themselves.
- 86 per cent of frequent Internet users felt that to be a good citizen it was very important to report a crime if they witnessed one.
- Only 15 per cent of frequent Internet users felt that to be a good citizen it was extremely important to be active in politics, compared to 25 per cent of infrequent users and 21 per cent of rare users.
- 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.
For example, only 38 per cent of frequent Internet users believe that to be a good citizen it was important to always obey laws and regulations, compared with 51 per cent of infrequent Internet users.
- Those who use the Internet more frequently are 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. The findings showed that Internet use was linked with promoting offline and online political engagement.
On that basis the report drew the general conclusion that online political activity complements, rather than replaces, traditional forms of political activity.
- Around one in four (27 per cent) respondents said they had visited the websites of political organisations or candidates and one in five said that they had forwarded electronic messages with political content (28 per cent of frequent Internet users).
- Those who use the Internet frequently are significantly more likely than those who use the Internet sparingly to be involved in political activity through virtual interactions.