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Mind the gap!

Social media trends in Australia 2014

A report by Anne Casey, 14 March 2014 - Originally published as Australia Correspondent to and Sally Cronin's "Sunday Show" on UK radio station, Express FM 93.7 :


The pace of social media uptake at the community level in Australia has been rapid, though not without its public controversies. With over half the population engaging in some form of interactive media usage, the biggest developments for 2014 are likely to be at the social level. Whatever they may postulate, the business community and Government may struggle to keep pace with the main instigators of change – consumers.


Lies, damned lies and statistics

Usage numbers for the major social networks in Australia remain reasonably consistent, suggesting that growth may be saturated. Depending on how you classify social media, you may come up with slightly different results on who are the front-runners. By any measure, however, Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform in Australia – with over half the population (56% or 12.8 million people) using it.


Facebook usage in Australia is reasonably evenly spread between the genders, with women showing slightly higher usage (53% of women versus 46% of men). Somewhat predictably, 20-somethings and 30-somethings show the greatest uptake, with 25 to 34 year-olds representing over a quarter of all Facebook users in Australia.


The next most popular mainstream social media vehicles in order of popularity are: Tumblr (4.7 million users), LinkedIn (2.9 million users), Twitter (2.5 million users) and Instagram (1.6 million). Pinterest, Myspace, Stumble Upon and Google+ have relatively low levels of penetration so far, with less than 3% each.


Social media backlash

Despite, or possibly because of, the mass saturation in Australia, social media have been at the centre of a number of major public controversies over the past 12 months. Most notably, persistent cyber-bullying via Facebook and Twitter were implicated in the suicide death of 47 year-old model and media personality, Charlotte Dawson in Sydney last month.


Amidst the media storm that followed, more than 174,000 people signed an online petition on calling for tougher laws on cyber-bullying. The Australian Government responded by appointing an Independent Commissioner to investigate complaints and propose reforms.


Other controversies surrounding social media over the past year alone include investigations into big brands for misuse of Facebook and Twitter. The Australian Advertising Standards Bureau ruled that corporates are ultimately responsible for all content posted on their social media page, including user-generated comments.


Storms have sprung from lack of control over comments labelled as sexist, racist, vilifying, promoting indecent behaviour and attitudes, and featuring obscene language or images.


In January of this year, a Government backbencher caused another squall across the mainstream and social media following the release of a book featuring strongly conservative views.


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Under Australian law, it is a crime to use the internet or a mobile device to harass, threaten or seriously offend someone. According to advice issued by the South Australian Government, “A message or post could be considered offensive if it is likely to cause serious anger, outrage, humiliation or disgust.”. Penalties for crimes involving social media include prison terms from 3-10 years.


Examples of crimes involving social media usage in Australia include:


  • In 2010, a 20 year old man sent threats and hate-filled Facebook messages to his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. He was found guilty of using internet services in a menacing, harassing or offensive way.
  • In 2006, a teenager threatened to kill two of his teachers and a girl at his school on his MySpace page. He was charged with making threats.
  • In 2009, a man copied pictures from a girl’s profile and posted them on adult websites, along with her name and contact details. He was found guilty of stalking and sentenced to jail.


Key trends for 2014

Like the rest of the developed world, Australia has been exposed to a deluge of new tools and engines. Speculators suggest that the rate of change will slow this year, with the biggest developments set to be in optimisation for mobile devices and photo/video applications.


Cross-platform integration (ie interconnectivity between all social media, web and business platforms) is also high on the list for 2014. In a case of ‘consumer beware’, Australia is following the rest of the western world with corporates investing major dollars into data mining from social media usage.


Whatever Australian businesses may be predicting, it seems clear that more stringent regulation of social media is on the cards at the Government level. Both corporates and regulators may find, however, that they are forever three steps behind the main instigators of social media change in Australia – the people on the street.