Usage of social media by older Australians doubled in 2020

Latest research by Australian Communications and Media Authority revealed during COVID, older Australians doubled their use of social media in June 2020, compared to the previous year.

Older Australians aged 75 and over are using digital communication tools, including social media apps, more than ever before, according to new research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

ACMA's Communications and Media in Australia: How we communicate interactive report
showed that the use of social media by people aged 75 and over doubled from 18% to 41% year-on-year to June 2020, which the report attributed to Australia's COVID-19 restrictions.

For the same age group, emailing also increased significantly from 37% in 2019 to 81% in 2020. Calls made using a mobile phone also increased for that aged group from 74% to 94%. 

"The digital divide between younger and older Australians has narrowed, with this trend accelerated by the desire to maintain contact with friends and family during lockdowns," ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said.

The report also showed overall, one in three Australians increased their use of social networking apps, with Facebook being the most popular at 93%, followed by YouTube at 73%, Instagram 57%, and Whatsapp at 48%.

The most common app used for communicating among all Australians from January to June 2020 was Facebook Messenger at 66%, which was ahead of Zoom at 43% and Whatsapp at 39%. It also marked the first time that Zoom was included as part of the research.

Keeping connected with others was a priority for 77% of Australians who had used an app to make voice calls, video calls, or send messages during the six months to June 2020. This is compared to 67% in 2019.  

"After years of gradual drift towards communications and social media apps, we have now seen a more pronounced shift in the way Australians connect," O'Loughlin said.

"More people are relying on social networking apps and mobile communication services like Facebook Messenger and Zoom to stay connected."

Unsurprisingly, mobile phones are by far the most popular communication device, with 99% of Australians now using one, according to the research.

Conversely, the usage of fixed-line home services for most aged groups -- except those aged 75 and over where their usage remains unchanged since 2019 -- continued to decline.

Other findings from the research included how satisfied Australians were with their communication services, and the results revealed overall satisfaction with home internet service increased in June 2020 compared to 2019. This included call wait times, complaints handling, technical support, service reliability, speed of repairing faults, and cost.

This overall sense of satisfaction among Australians about their communication services carried through to the October to December 2020 quarter, with ACMA's latest publication of telecommunication complaints for the period indicating the number of complaints made to telcos dropped nearly 25% from 359,495 to 270,355.

Breaking down the complaints based on service type, mobile was still the most complained about, receiving 123,721, followed by NBN broadband at 65,238.

Despite the reduction in complaints during the quarter, the weighted average days to resolve complaints increased from 9.8 days to 11.5 days. Additionally, there was a 6% increase in escalated complaints compared to the December 2019 quarter.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said telcos needed to introduce better complaint-handling systems.  

"Telecommunications are an essential service. When consumers are having phone or internet issues, they need to have these complaints resolved quickly and on the first try," ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said.

"It should not take nearly 20 days to resolve a consumer complaint, as was the case with one of the telcos highlighted in the ACMA's report. It's simply not good enough."

On the flipside, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton welcomed the improvement during the quarter.

"This reflects the hard work telcos have been putting in to improve customer service, including through the challenges of COVID," he said.

He pointed to the revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code as one example where the industry has "strengthened" consumer protections. 

"Additionally, telcos have been working on innovative service offerings and with carriers to increase customer choices and improve the customer experience," Stanton added.

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