Half of young people encounter misleading content online on a daily basis

Research reveals the new challenges young people face in identifying misleading content, at a time when being online is more important than ever

To mark this year’s Safer Internet Day, new research released today (February 9) by the official coordinators the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC), shows young people’s experience of misleading content online as well as the strategies they are using to manage this.

The research comes as over 1,000 supporters in the UK, including Government ministers, Premier League football clubs, industry bodies, celebrities, charities, schools and police services join together with young people, to inspire and ignite conversations and host events that help to promote  safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.

Exposure to misleading content

Seventy seven per cent of young people (aged 8 – 17) surveyed feel that being online has been a more important part of their life in 2020 than ever before. The internet has become a fundamental part of young people’s education, with 65 per cent of young people having enjoyed online lessons amidst lockdowns, which caused school closures nationwide.

Whilst 73 per cent of young people surveyed feel that being online has helped them through the difficult pandemic and lockdowns, the research also found that over half (51%) of young people surveyed are encountering more misleading content online now than in the previous year. Up to 48 per cent young people surveyed said they encountered misleading content at least once a day or more frequently, with 24 per cent of young people encountering it two to five times a day.

The research highlighted how likely young people are to fall for misleading online interactions, with 63 per cent of them saying they would be likely to fall for things like gaming scams, sneaky/hidden sponsored ads, filtered/edited imagery on social media and stories from unofficial sources. Fifty three per cent of young people assume that images that they come across on social media are likely to have been filtered or edited to some extent.

The research showed that 62 per cent of young people have had friend requests from people they don’t know. This highlights the importance in the decisions young people take towards their own safety, as well as the need for them to be able to manage the risks they are presented with online.

Reaction, response and reporting content

Insight shows that 25 per cent of young people admit to sharing online content from an unverified or untrustworthy source, with 43 per cent seeing people their own age and friends sharing something misleading. When asked why, 16 per cent of young people surveyed either did it ‘just for fun’ e.g. as a harmless joke or without being aware of how misleading or ‘fake’ the content was. Thirty five per cent also have seen influencers, bloggers, celebrities etc share misleading content (such as fake news) online.

Almost three in five young people surveyed understand that sharing misleading content online could be harmful, whilst also recognising that it could cause further damage such as upset (55%), hurt (55%) or embarrassment (35%). Whilst many young people are likely to ignore misleading content or not do anything in response (48%), many others are likely to talk about it with a parent or carer (28%). Seventeen per cent say that when they see their friends sharing such content, they have talked to them about it.

The majority of young people understand that they have a responsibility to be mindful of their actions when they are online. There can be a negative emotional impact that comes with encountering misleading content online, with 91 per cent of young people feeling either annoyed, upset, sad, angry, attacked or scared at encountering various misleading interactions.

Two thirds of young people are aware they have a responsibility to report potentially damaging, harmful or misleading content online, but overall, they are more likely to block misleading content (21%) than report it (16%).

Together for a better internet

Everyone has a role to play in creating and maintaining a better online world, whether you are a young person, a parent or carer, a teacher or an educator, a policy maker, or whether you represent an organisation or industry.

Whilst the majority of young people feel they have a responsibility to report misleading content that could be harmful online, 53% of young people surveyed also believe they have a responsibility to educate family and friends and to ‘call them out’ as and when they share it. 61% of these young people also want to learn more about how to spot misleading content online, with young people calling on social media and other online platforms (78%) and the government (72%) to do more to get involved in tackling misleading content online.

Safer Internet Day unites millions of young people, schools and organisations across the UK, to spark conversations around online safety and what to trust online. Over 1,000 organisations are taking part, joining young people in conversation, as well as hosting events. Across the day, the UK Safer Internet Centre will be releasing toolkits, resources and live content.

To keep updated and to get involved follow @UK_SIC and use the hashtags #SaferInternetDay and #AnInternetWeTrust. For further information, or to register your support as an organisation, visit saferinternetday.org.uk

Will Gardner OBE, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, says:

“This is the most important Safer internet Day ever. We are in lockdown and being online continues to be a lifeline for most children during the pandemic, in terms of their education and social lives, and also as a form of support. Our research released today sheds a light on this, as well as children and young people’s experience of unreliable content. It shows they are making decisions all the time on the trustworthiness of content they see or are sent, or contact they receive, as well as showing the impact this has on them. We need to listen to young people, and hear the strategies they are already using, and we need to work to support them. Managing unreliable content and contact is fundamental to being safe online, as well as for looking after others online. Safer Internet Day provides the perfect opportunity to generate the conversations that need to take place to support children in their online lives. Through all the activities taking place today, across the UK, we can all work to help empower young people, and those that support them, to be better able to harness and use the positive power of the internet for good.”

The UK Safer Internet Centre (comprised of Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation and SWGfL) has worked with young people to create the Young People’s Charter that it will put to the government, calling on them to:

  • Provide sufficient educational tools and resource for safe internet use, including the UK’s Digital Media Literacy Strategy
  • Establish better protection online
  • Hold industries and social platforms accountable

 Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“The internet can be a fantastic place for learning, entertainment and connecting with people. But it is also used by dangerous people to spread misleading content or exploit children and young people.

“It’s fantastic to see so many organisations from across the UK come together on Safer Internet Day to raise awareness of these dangers and promote a safer use of digital technology.

“As all our children are spending more and more time online, I am firmly committed to supporting this global initiative and making the UK the safest place to be online through our ground-breaking Online Safety Bill.”

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said:

“As children are living in an increasingly digital world, it is vitally important that they are able to separate fact from fiction and challenge or question any misinformation they may come across.

“We are providing 1.3 million devices for children who need them the most because we know that the internet is an important vehicle for education during the pandemic, with extensive advice for schools on how to prioritise online safety. 

“This year’s safer internet day is more important than ever. We want children to have access to the tools they need to navigate modern life, including how to identify disinformation and trusted sources, stay safe online, and make the right decisions when engaging with media content. We have already introduced guidance for schools about teaching online safety across the curriculum within new and existing subjects, such as Relationships, Sex and Health Education, Computing and Citizenship.”

Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage said:

“This research presents a clear picture of the challenges children face online. But I’m heartened to see on this SaferInternet Day just how many UK organisations are addressing these challenges and helping young people spot and discount misleading information. 

“We are playing our part in government, and are hard at work preparing our upcoming Media Literacy Strategy and Online Safety Bill which will equip young people with the skills to be safe online and put a new duty of care on online platforms to tackle dangerous disinformation.”

To support young people this Safer Internet Day and beyond, the UKSIC centre hosts a library of free educational resources at saferinternetday.org.uk to provide parents, schools and other members of the children’s workforce with the tools they need to safely navigate the internet.

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