Dog walker passes 5G coronavirus conspiracy graffiti

Online Media Literacy Strategy seeks to help young people navigate disinformation

Image credit: REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The UK government has published a strategy intended to help young people spot online disinformation, amid a wider effort to improve media literacy and make the internet a safer place for children.

The strategy [PDF] will involve training teachers, library staff, youth workers, and carers to help young people spot disinformation, including how to critically analyse the content they consume. According to research by the National Literacy Trust, just 2 per cent of children have developed sufficient critical-thinking skills to spot disinformation online.

Concerns are not limited to children; the coronavirus pandemic has inspired a wave of dangerous disinformation and misinformation, including falsehoods about vaccines, 5G technology, and the origins of the virus. These falsehoods have led to instances of arson and harassment of telecoms and healthcare workers.

Digital minister Oliver Dowden decried real-life harms done by consumers of disinformation. He wrote in a statement: “We want users to be able to make informed and safer decisions online, to make the most of all the good the internet has to offer. This strategy is part of our plan to achieve this by supporting the education and empowerment of all internet users with the key skills and knowledge they need to be safe online – you could call it a Green Cross Code for the internet.

“We want users to be able to critically evaluate the content they consume, understand that online actions can have offline consequences, and be able to contribute to a respectful and kind online environment.”

The Online Harms White Paper committed the government to developing an Online Media Literacy Strategy ahead of the implementation of the internet regulator, incorporated into Ofcom.

The media literary strategy will be supported with £340,000 in the first year, during which an Online Media Literacy Taskforce – of tech platforms, civil society and academics – will be created. Over 170 organisations already exist to deliver media literacy education in the UK. The taskforce will assess how best to improve media literary among young people and will coordinate the media literacy landscape in the UK. The strategy has identified a number of key challenges for media literacy, including hard-to-reach audiences, vulnerable users, and building resilience to disinformation.

Areas of focus will be: data and privacy; online environment; information consumption; online consequences, and online engagement.

“False or confused information spread online could threaten public safety and undermine our democracy,” said digital and culture minister Caroline Dinenage, while launching the strategy at Battersea Library. “We are legislating to make tech platforms more accountable for this, but people still need the right skills to distinguish between fact and fiction online.

“Through the Media Literacy Strategy, we will channel the efforts of dedicated UK organisations and bring the fight to fake news by making the young, vulnerable and wider online community more resistant and resilient to it.”

Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of online safety site Parent Zone, said the strategy was an important step in protecting children online: “In a world where school, social, work and family life is increasingly lived online, having the right skills and knowledge is vital to ensure all parents and children are able to explore everything the online world has to offer confidently and safely.”

Shout Out UK, which provides training on media and political literacy, welcomed the publication of the strategy: “Setting the scene for a more collaborative relationship between the government and the civil society sector and ensuring greater coordination of activities can go a long way in filling in the existing gaps. We are particularly interested to see how the strategy is going to be implemented at schools, where young people spend a significant portion of their time, as well as how the strategy can foster a four-way collaboration between the DfE, DCMS, schools, and civil society organisations.”

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