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Ofcom publishes suite of media literacy research

Making Sense of Media is Ofcom’s programme of work to help improve the online skills, knowledge and understanding of UK adults and children.

Ofcom’s research programme is designed to provide a wide-ranging evidence base of adults’ and children’s understanding and use of media. It underpins Ofcoms own policy development, as well as providing the media literacy sector with a depth and range of objective evidence useful for developing their own strategic priorities.

The annual Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report provides evidence on media use, attitudes and understanding among UK adults aged 16 and over. It has a particular focus on critical understanding, which is a core component of media literacy, enabling people to assess and evaluate their media environment. Key findings include from this report include:

  • The proportion of those without internet access at home remained stable in 2021 at 6% of households
  • Young adults were often helping others do something online;
  • A growing number (21%) of internet users were accessing the internet exclusively via a smartphone.
  • • Almost eight in ten internet users (79%) said they were confident in using the internet, but there was often a gap between people’s confidence in being able to recognise advertising, identify a scam message or judge the veracity of online content, and their ability to do this when shown examples.
  • A third of internet users were unaware of the potential for inaccurate or biased information online; 6% of internet users believed that all the information they find online is truthful and 30% of internet users don’t know – or don’t think about – whether the information they find is truthful or not.
  • A majority of people (55%) now disagree with the idea that people should be able to say whatever they want online, even if hurtful or controversial, up from 47% in 2020.

The qualitative Adults’ Media Lives research is a longitudinal, ethnographic project which has been running since 2005 and complements Ofcom’s quantitative survey data to provide an over-arching narrative on the key themes of adults’ media experience. The research has followed the same (as far as possible) 20 participants over time – with 12 of them having been in the study for at least 14 years.

The report showed that technology was playing a more important role in participants’ lives than perhaps ever before. It also showed that although the pandemic had yielded potentially long-term benefits in terms of more flexible working, access to upgraded media technology at home and improved digital skills and confidence for many older participants, there were also downsides for many participants.

Most participants have been watching more TV and streaming content in the past year. There was a marked increase in claimed use of the broadcasters’ catch-up services (e.g. BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub) and more participants than before had access to subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+.

The Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes report gives an overview of media literacy among children aged 3-17 including, where appropriate, parents’ attitudes and mediation strategies. Analysis is conducted on relevant demographics such as age, gender and UK nation. Some of the key findings were as follows:

  • Nearly all children went online in 2021 (99%) but more than a third (36%) of primary school-age children did not always have access to an adequate device for online learning at home.
  • Using video-sharing platforms (VSPs) such as YouTube or TikTok was the most popular online activity among children aged 3-17 (95%); while the majority chose to watch content on VSPs, 31% posted content they had made themselves, especially those aged 12-17.
  • More than six in ten children aged 8-17 said they had more than one profile on some online apps and sites (62%); the most common reason, overall, was having one profile just for their parents, family or friends to see.
  • Children still watch live television but are more likely to watch paid-for on-demand streaming services.
  • Despite almost six in ten teenagers saying they used social media for news, it was the least trusted or accurate news source; 12-15s preferred to trust their family (68%) or the TV (65%) for news.
  • The majority of 12-17s were confident that they could tell what is real and fake online, but only 11% correctly selected, in an interactive survey question showing a social media post, the components of the post which reflected that it was genuine.

The Children’s Media Lives report provides analysis of the findings from the eighth year of Ofcom’s Children’s Media Lives study following a small group of children (recently expanded from 18 to 21 participants) aged 8 to 18, over consecutive years, interviewing them on camera each year about their media habits and attitudes. The findings show:

  • The majority of the children were spending less time online than at the height of the pandemic and were taking part in more offline hobbies and activities.
  • TikTok was still the most popular platform
  • Children were being less ‘social’ on a lot of social media and were consuming more ‘professionalised’ content from influencers, brands and people trying to use the platform to build a monetised following.
  • A lot of the children’s behaviour online was increasingly passive with some children struggling to pay attention to longer-form content.
  • Most children were not consuming news via traditional news providers and for some, their consumption of news topics via social media included conspiracy theories •
  • Children often have experiences online which could – but don’t necessarily – lead to harm
  • Children were being exposed to riskier ways of making money online, and most older girls had been approached to become ‘brand ambassadors’

The Digital Exclusion Review draws together Ofcom’s research, historical and recent, on the levels of digital exclusion amongst adults in the UK. Using data from a range of sources, both quantitative and qualitative, the report explores barriers to digital access through the three pillars of access, ability, and affordability. The report provides an overview of Ofcom’s historical research on digital exclusion and of the more recent impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, both positive and negative.

Findings show that the number of adults in the UK unable to access the internet fell steadily in the years leading up to the pandemic, and that the pandemic has made people more reliant on internet access than ever before.