30% internet users don’t question misinformation |

March 30, 2022

More than a third of UK internet users are unaware that online content might be false or biased, according to research from media regulator Ofcom.

Every minute sees 500 hours of content uploaded to YouTube, 5,000 videos viewed on TikTok and 695,000 stories shared on Instagram. Given the sheer volume of information at the touch of a smartphone, having the right critical skills and understanding to decipher fact from fiction has never been more important, says Ofcom.

But the study reveals that 30 per cent of UK adults who go online (14.5 million) are unsure about, or don’t even consider, the truthfulness of online information. A further 6 per cent – around one in every twenty internet users – believe everything they see online.

Confidence exceeds critical capacity

Misinformation can spread quickly on social media platforms. More than four in ten adults say they have seen a story on social media that looked deliberately untrue or misleading in the last year.

To interrogate this trend, participants were shown social media posts and profiles to determine whether they could verify their authenticity. This reveals that users’ confidence in their ability to spot fake content belies their true critical capabilities.

Although seven in 10 adults (69 per cent) said they were confident in identifying misinformation, only two in 10 (22 per cent) were able to correctly identify the tell-tale signs of a genuine post, without making mistakes. Ofcom saw a similar pattern among older children aged 12-17 (74 per cent confident but only 11 per cent able).

Similarly, around a quarter of adults (24 per cent) and children (27 per cent) who claimed to be confident in spotting misinformation were unable to identify a fake social media profile in practice.

Support for tougher rules

With the Online Safety Bill being introduced to Parliament on March 17th, support for greater online protection is growing. Four in five adult internet users (81 per cent) want to see tech firms take responsibility for monitoring content on their sites and apps. Two thirds (65 per cent) also want protection against inappropriate or offensive content.

“In a volatile and unpredictable world, it’s essential that everyone has the tools and confidence to separate fact and fiction online – whether it’s about money, health, world events or other people. But many adults and children are struggling to spot what might be fake. So we’re calling on tech firms to prioritise rooting out harmful misinformation, before we take on our new role helping to tackle the problem. And we’re offering tips on what to consider when you’re browsing or scrolling,” said Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom Chief Executive.

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