UK’s youth faced with sharpening digital inequalities and alarming levels of online abuse

17th October 2022

Over two thirds (69%) of young people have experienced bullying and harassment online, or viewed harmful online content, reveals a major nationwide survey. The Nominet Digital Youth Index is an annual benchmarking study of over 4000 8- to 25-year-olds in the UK. Nominet is a public benefit company that operates and protects .UK internet infrastructure and uses its profits to support projects that promote digital inclusion.

Other key findings include:

Digital wellbeing

  • 53% of young people say online life has a positive impact on their relationships with friends but, despite this, one in four young people would like to spend less time on their digital devices (27%), down from 39% in 2021
  • Young people are most likely to see distressing content on Reddit (70%), Twitter (70%), TikTok (66%), and Tumblr (63%), ranging from violence, to trolling or abuse, and/or sexual content
  • Nearly three-fifths (58%) of parents or carers with children under 16 limit the hours their children spend using their digital devices
  • Three in ten young people say their sleep is negatively impacted by the internet and digital devices


  • 95% of young people say they feel safe online, despite 29% experiencing hate speech online – representing 4.2 million young people in the UK
  • Around 1 in 4 young people have experienced violence (26%), trolling or abuse (23%), and/or sexual content (23%) online
  • Online minority groups are most vulnerable to seeing negative content online, aided by the anonymity of the digital landscape. For instance, young people who are part of the LGBTQI+ community are almost twice as likely to experience hate speech online compared to those who identify as heterosexual (52% versus 26%)
  • Three quarters of young people say that they feel ‘in control’ of what they see online (73%) and understand the steps needed to protect their security


  • 57% of young people want a job that uses advanced digital skills
  • Half of young people (51%) believe they are teaching themselves essential digital skills – up from 48% in 2021
  • 20% of young people do not feel that they have received good foundational training from school to help them to use digital technology

Device access

  • A quarter of young people (26%) do not have access to a laptop
  • Among those who don’t have access to a smartphone, the key reasons are parents not allowing it (33%) and/ or not believing they are safe to use (19%), and expense (17%)
  • Young people are most concerned about having access to a smartphone, or having the latest version to keep up with peers

Digital connectivity

  • For just under three quarters of young people (72%), the type of internet connection they use most frequently is WiFi/wired internet at home
  • Over a third (35%) of young people say limits to their family data allowance stops them doing everything they want to do online
  • The equivalent of 2.3m young people (16%) use mobile data as their main way to connect to the Internet – often a more costly method than home broadband

The Nominet Digital Youth Index measures young people’s digital access and inclusion, their ability to conduct certain digital skills, how safe they feel online and their related physical and mental wellbeing. Surveying over 4,000 young people in the UK aged 8 – 25, it’s the only free-to-use, national annual benchmarking report of this scale that identifies and monitors the key drivers, issues and opportunities in young people’s relationship with digital technology in the UK. It aims to highlight areas of disadvantage, inform policy-making and help to improve education and life outcomes for young people today and in the future.

While digital spaces present essential opportunities for young people to learn, connect, work, seek support and socialise, not everyone has an equal chance to harness the value on offer. This year’s Index discovered a current crisis that is widening the gap between those who can access digital resources and those who can’t.

Two years on from the start of the pandemic, and still one in four young people do not have access to a laptop (26%). The key reason among those who do not have a laptop is cost (27%). This is more the case for secondary students (26%) than primary students (19%) and becomes ever-more pressing with the looming cost of living crisis. Meanwhile, a fifth (20%) of young people do not feel they have basic training on digital skills relevant to everyone, let alone the opportunity to explore advanced skills for careers like coding. But more than half (57%) of young people want a job that uses advanced digital skills.

In fact, 20% of young people do not feel that they have received good training in school to help them to use digital technology. Marginalised young people are particularly likely to feel that school training was not enough – this includes LGBTQ+ young people (31%), and those with certain disabilities such as mobility (30%) and mental health challenges (30%). The same is true among those who are not currently in education or employment (34%).

The findings also revealed a balancing act is needed to benefit from accessing services or connecting with others online, while mitigating the negative impact and risks of spending too much time online. While more than half of young people (53%) say online life has a positive impact on their relationships with friends, more than one in three young people (37%) agree that going online has a negative impact on people like them. This rises to over two in five among LGBTQ+ young people (44%), and almost half (47%) of young people with a mental health condition. Young people are feeling the impact of social media on people they can relate to, and it is affecting how they feel about themselves.

The social media platforms where young users are most likely to have seen distressing content are Reddit (70%), Twitter (70%), TikTok (66%), and Tumblr (63%), ranging from violence, to trolling or abuse, and/or sexual content. Additionally, many young people are accessing these platforms at an age lower than is imposed by the social media company.  For example, a third of primary school children are accessing TikTok, despite the platform requiring users to be 13.

Further, new pressures are changing the types of support people need, from money advice to mental health support.

Paul Fletcher, CEO, Nominet, commented: “It’s never been more important for young people to feel connected, included and secure when they’re online. Completing this research over a number of years allows us to compare young people’s digital skills, their use of online services, and their mental health and overall wellbeing over time.

“Society depends on young people learning to thrive in our increasingly digital world. Growing the diversity of the UK’s digital talent pool and increasing digital skills for all young people is vital not just for improving social mobility and the economy, but for building the kind of society we need, today and tomorrow.”

Read the full report here for more information and explore the full data through our interactive tool.


Opinium conducted the 2022 Nominet Digital Youth Index in two phases: an initial quantitative survey during June – August 2022, followed by a qualitative phase during August – September 2022.

The qualitative phase included:

  • Pop-up communities – an online community for 30 young people who were asked questions via an online platform over a period of 3 days
  • Ethnographic interviews – more detailed qualitative interviews with a small number of young people
  • Focus groups conducted with parents, carers, teachers and youth workers.

In addition to surveying a nationally representative sample of 8- to 25-year-olds, we conducted an offline survey of 105 young people who are most under-represented (based on criteria such as having no personal access to digital devices at home) using a mixed approach (telephone/online) based on the young person’s ability to access an appropriate device. In total, 4,150 young people in the UK aged 8 – 25 were surveyed.

The margin of error for scores of 50% is +/-1.5% at 95% confidence level. For 10%/90% it’s at +/-0.9%.