Online harms survey, analysis of online habits, reports on misinformation and media literacy: Ofcom builds a robust evidence base to better understand how people interact with online information
On 9 June 2021, Ofcom released its annual 'Online Nation' report, looking at the attitudes and behaviours of online users in the United Kingdom. In addition, Ofcom has commissioned a series of reports on online harms and misinformation, as part of its preparation to take on new responsibilities regulating online safety with the Online Safety Bill.
The Online Nation 2021 report
The report shows that the pandemic has increased the dependence to and the time spent on online services, such as VOD platforms, online gaming and video-calling services, while creating a bigger digital divide in the society, especially regarding older people and those in lower socio-economic households.
Protection of minors remain a major challenge, as over half of children reported having a negative experience online and child safety being the most common ground for content removal by YouTube and TikTok.
The pandemic has also accelerated the digital transition, allowing the major Internet platforms to grow bigger and encouraging the development of the online retailers' businesses.
The Online Nation report 2021
Reports on online harms and information disorders
- A Pilot Online Harms Survey
Last December, the UK Government confirmed its intention to appoint Ofcom as the regulator for online harms. Within this framework, Ofcom has conducted an online survey among 4000 individuals aged 13+ to better understand the online users' behaviour, opinions and reactions to online harms.
The Pilot Online Harms Survey
- Two additional reports to better understand misinformation
The UK Government also intends to strengthen the role of Ofcom regarding to media literacy in the UK. Within the Making Sense of Media's programme, Ofcom has commissioned two reports focused on misinformation:
- 'Misinformation: a qualitative exploration' from Yonder: This qualitative report analyses the behaviour and attitudes of individuals who define themselves as ‘questioners’ or ‘rejectors’ of mainstream media sources. The study explores their perceptions of 'truth' and 'misinformation' and their opinions about interventions designed to combat types of misinformation and reflects the very complex reality around attitudes towards misinformation:
-> A fading level of trust in media: In a news fast-moving landscape that they found both engaging and fatiguing, the participants of the survey blame the news media for their selective way to treat information and share the perception that traditional 'reliable indicators', such as expert opinions, have been undermined.
-> A subjective online behaviour: The study reports that users tend to essentially focus their attention to stories reflecting their point of view or to limit their reading to the headlines of the article. It can also be noted that people tend to create their own echo chambers as they are reluctant to share publicly alternative sources of content and rather keep this content in closed circles.
-> A danger for others: Even though participants have various ideas of what is 'misinformation', both questioners and rejectors tend to identify the danger only for others, as they feel confident enough not to fall for it.
'Misinformation: a qualitative exploration'
- 'A Rapid Evidence Assessment on Online Misinformation and Media Literacy' by the London School of Economics (LSE): This report, conducted from November 2020 to April 2021, analyses and scrutinises existing studies that measure the effectiveness of interventions designed to tackle misinformation, in order to provide recommendations to researchers and media literacy practitioners.
The authors of the report stress notably that:
-> The range of samples used in studies should be improved to include more diversity and more platforms while research should also broaden the elements taken into account in the analysis to identify the full range of benefits generated by media literacy measures.
-> Tools, and especially those identified as efficient to develop critical-rational thinking such as games and gamifications, might be consistently integrated and evaluated in technical interventions and media literacy education, to better understand their impact.
-> Collaboration between platforms, media literacy practitioners and researchers should be regular and facilitated.
'A Rapid Evidence Assessment on Online Misinformation and Media Literacy'
- Two further reports
- 'Automated approaches to measuring online experiences': This report was published to provide an assessment of the existing online automated tools and the legal, ethical and other considerations to be addressed when implementing these tools.
'Automated approaches to measuring online experiences'
- A report on transparency: To anticipate the future requirement for online service providers to produce annual transparency reports under the supervision of Ofcom - a proposal included in the draft Online Safety Bill - the regulator also commissioned PA Consulting to "evaluate literature on transparency and reporting policies across a range of sectors and contexts to understand which factors had been taken into account, from the intended audience to the information collected".
PA Consulting’s independent report