7.4. Downsides to the digital transformation

In addition to creating a range of opportunities, the digital transformation introduces various new risks and downsides that can affect peoples’ lives and well-being. These risks occur in each dimension of the OECD Framework for Measuring Well-being and Progress (http://www.oecd.org/statistics/measuring-well-being-and-progress.htm), and are often difficult to measure. Since well-being is inherently a multidimensional concept, this section cannot do justice to the wide variety of risks posed or the nuances associated with them. Instead, it highlights a few key risks for which data are available in the areas of work-life balance, governance and social connections, each of which have gathered significant attention in the public debate.

Constant connectedness to the Internet presents a potential risk for workers’ leisure time and mental health. Time spent on e-mail outside work and organisational expectations that workers should be available at all times have been shown to significantly lower people’s satisfaction with their work-life balance (Belkin et al., 2016). Workers with computer-intensive jobs are more likely to experience worries outside the workplace than those whose jobs are not ICT-intensive. This effect exists for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers in most countries. Connected devices can also enable employers to monitor behaviour and performance in new ways. However, the potential productivity benefits from such tools need to be balanced against privacy concerns and the potential for negative effects on employees’ well-being.

Disinformation has gained increasing attention as digital technologies facilitate faster and wider dissemination. While disinformation is neither new nor necessarily illegal, some have raised concerns that it negatively impacts individuals and society more broadly (European Commission, 2018); (United Kingdom House of Commons, 2018); (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 2018); (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, 2018). While difficult to measure precisely, one indication of the extent of disinformation is self-reported exposure to “completely made-up stories”. This suggests that many individuals across the OECD have been exposed to disinformation, with substantial variation across countries, from nearly 50% of respondents in Turkey to under 10% in Denmark and Germany.

Cyberbullying is a product of newly emerged opportunities for public and private harassment especially, among children and teenagers. Exposure to cyberbullying can lead to severe mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and self-harm (Lindert, 2017). Rates of cyberbullying experiences vary substantially across countries and are not necessarily associated with Internet penetration. It should be noted that online harassment can affect adults as well as children and can be based on many characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity. It is therefore imperative to find ways of making the online space safe for people from all parts of society.

Did You Know?

Girls are more often the victims of cyberbullying than boys in all but four OECD countries.


Cyberbullying can take many forms, such as sending harmful messages, impersonating others online, sharing private messages, uploading photographs or videos of another person, and creating hateful websites or social media pages. This measure refers to cyberbullying by messages only.

Disinformation is defined as all forms of false, inaccurate or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit.

Frequent computer users refers to workers who use digital devices for at least three quarters of working time


Micro-data from the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) show that individuals who frequently use computers at work experience more worries about work outside of work, when controlling for individual characteristics (OECD, 2019a). It is unclear whether this stems from the use of digital devices outside work time or from stress accumulated during work time. Forthcoming data from the 2018 Canadian Internet Use Survey will provide an insight into the extent to which employees are expected to monitor their work e-mail or be reachable outside normal office hours.

Official surveys have not yet responded to the emergence of disinformation by including questions on the topic. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has conducted a large-scale survey on self-reported encounters in nationally representative panels in 37 countries, providing a rare source of comparable data (Newman et. al., 2018). It should be noted, however, that such self-reported measures captures the individual’s perception of the veracity of information, rather than the actual degree of accuracy. Furthermore, this measure does not provide insight into the aggregate impact of disinformation as it does not measure how many people have actually seen or have been affected by it.

Surveys that include questions on cyberbullying are administered either at home or at school; settings that may influence children admitting having been the victim of cyberbullying, even if responses are kept confidential. More regular surveys with wider country coverage, harmonised definitions and potentially with coverage of adults as well as children would greatly improve understanding of online harassment.

Individuals worrying about work outside working time, 2015
Percentage of individuals using computers at work

Source: OECD, based on European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), November 2018. See 1.

1. Frequent computer use refers to workers who use digital devices at work at least three-quarters of the time.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933930991

Self-reported exposure to disinformation, 2018
Percentage of individuals who reported having come across completely made-up stories in the previous week

Source: Newman et al. (2018).

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933931010

Children’s exposure to cyberbullying through messages, by gender, 2013
As a percentage of 15 year-olds in each group

Source: WHO (2016). See 1.

1. Children’s exposure to cyberbullying refers to the share of children aged 15 who report having been cyberbullied by messages at least once.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933931029

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