Government launches strategy to fight online disinformation

Teachers, carers, librarians and youth workers to be trained to help young and vulnerable people spot disinformation online

Posted 15 July 2021 by Christine Horton

British teachers, library workers, youth workers and carers are to be “upskilled” to help in the fight against disinformation online.

Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage made the announcement as she launched a new Online Media Literacy Strategy. She said it is part of the government’s drive to combat the spread of misinformation and disinformation “by giving people the skills to think critically about what they see and read online and help children navigate the internet safely.”

According to Ofcom, 40 percent of adult internet users do not have the skills to critically assess online content. Children up to the age of 15 are particularly vulnerable with studies by the National Literacy Trust finding that just two percent of children have the critical thinking skills needed to tell fact from fiction online. 

There was a rise in misinformation and disinformation on social media and other online platforms during the global pandemic, with promotion of fake COVID-19 treatments and falsehoods about 5G which led to vandalism of telephone masts in a number of locations.

The strategy will support the UK’s sector of more than 170 organisations that are working to improve media literacy rates. The UK is currently tenth out of 34 European countries for media literacy rates, and the government says it wants to move up the table over the next three years.

“False or confused information spread online could threaten public safety and undermine our democracy,” said Dinenage.

“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.”

Librarians, youth workers and librarians targeted

The strategy includes an action plan with £340,000 to be spent in the first year (2021/22) to give people the skills needed to make safer choices online and increase critical thinking, with a focus on vulnerable internet users.

A new ‘Train the Trainer’ programme will provide government training to carers of disabled children and teachers. They will be taught to teach others to understand how the online environment works, including how online news articles and social media posts are generated and paid for, and how to critically analyse the content they consume.

The action plan announces funding for the National Youth Agency to develop a module on media literacy, giving youth workers the opportunity for early interventions to prevent online harm occurring. 

The strategy will also provide a training programme for frontline library workers who interact with members of the public every day to teach them about information literacy.

Additionally it will explore working with social media influencers to promote key online media literacy skills and critical thinking, raising awareness amongst groups who may otherwise be hard to reach.

The government is also creating an Online Media Literacy Taskforce, which will be made up of tech platforms, civil society and academia. The goal is to bring together key stakeholders to take collective action to remove the barriers to increasing people’s media literacy. An online portal will also provide a ‘one stop shop’ for users to access resources about media literacy and online safety, and to help equip them with key skills and knowledge to spot disinformation and make safe decisions online.