More than a third of internet users are unaware that online content can be false or biased, according to an Ofcom study.
Some 30% of UK adults who use the internet – 14.5 million – are unsure or do not even consider the truth of information they see online, according to the regulator’s annual survey.
Another 6%, or about one in 20 internet users, believe everything they see online.
Both adults and children overestimate their ability to detect misinformation, Ofcom has found.
Participants viewed social media posts and profiles to determine if they could verify their authenticity. Although seven in 10 adults (69%) said they were confident in identifying misinformation, only two in 10 (22%) were able to correctly identify the telltale signs of an authentic message, without making mistakes.
Ofcom saw a similar trend among older children aged 12-17, with 74% confident but only 11% able to identify authentic content.
Similarly, about a quarter of adults (24%) and children (27%) who said they were confident in spotting misinformation were unable to identify a fake social media profile in practice.
The study also found that 33% of parents of children aged five to seven and 60% of parents of children aged eight to 11 said their children had a social media profile, despite having under 13 years old. most sites.
TikTok, in particular, is growing in popularity even among the younger age groups, with 16% of three-to-four-year-olds and 29% of five-to-seven-year-olds using the platform.
And Ofcom has warned that many children may ‘tactically’ use other accounts or ‘finstas’ – fake Instagrams – to conceal aspects of their online lives from parents.
The study found that 64% of children aged 8 to 11 had multiple accounts or profiles, with 46% having an account just for their family.
More than a third of children (35%) reported engaging in potentially risky behaviors that could prevent a parent or guardian from properly monitoring their online usage.
A fifth (21%) surfed in “incognito mode” and 19% deleted their browsing history, while 6% bypassed parental controls put in place to prevent them from visiting certain apps and sites.
Meanwhile, children are seeing less video content from friends online and more from brands, celebrities and influencers, Ofcom said.
Streams full of “slick professional content” seemed to encourage a tendency to scroll instead of share, with adults (88%) and children (91%) three times more likely to watch videos online than post their own. videos.
Ofcom warned that the “sheer volume” of information meant the critical skills and understanding needed to decipher fact from fiction had “never been more important”.
Every minute, 500 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube, 5,000 videos are viewed on TikTok and 695,000 stories are shared on Instagram.
Four in five adult Internet users (81%) want tech companies to take responsibility for monitoring the content of their sites and apps. Two-thirds (65%) also want protection from inappropriate or offensive content.
Ofcom Chief Executive Melanie Dawes said: “In a volatile and unpredictable world, it is essential that everyone has the tools and the confidence to separate fact from fiction online, whether money, health, world events or other people.
“But many adults and children struggle to spot what might be wrong. We therefore call on technology companies to prioritize eradicating harmful misinformation, before taking on our new role in helping to solve the problem. And we offer advice on what to consider when browsing or scrolling.