Teachers, carers, librarians and youth workers to be trained to help youngsters and disabled people spot disinformation online

  • £340k in the first year as part of an action plan to reskill communities and support organisations
  • A new cross-sector task force will be established to help drive up media literacy rates

British teachers, library workers, youth workers and carers will be upskilled to help build a new front in the fight against disinformation online, as the government publishes its Online Media Literacy Strategy.

Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage launched the strategy at Battersea Library in South London today, as part of the government’s national 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% 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 2% 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 wants to move up the table over the next three years.

Digital Minister Caroline Dinenage said:

False or confused information spread online could threaten public safety and undermine our democracy.

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.

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. This is the inaugural plan with updates on progress to be published annually.

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.

Youth workers have unique opportunities to build trusting relationships with young people, and often those who may be vulnerable. 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.

Libraries play an important role in communities and already offer training and support to the public to help them access technologies and navigate the online environment. The strategy will provide a training programme for frontline library workers who interact with members of the public every day to teach them about information literacy.

The strategy will also 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.

An Online Media Literacy Taskforce will be created, made up of tech platforms, civil society and academia, bringing 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.

The government is introducing its world-leading Online Safety Bill which will hold platforms to account for tackling harmful and inappropriate content, including mis/disinformation that could cause physical or psychological harm.

Vicki Shotbolt, founder and CEO of Parent Zone, said:

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.

The Media Literacy Strategy is an ideal opportunity to ensure people of all generations and backgrounds are supported to thrive online, and we look forward to continuing to work with the government to build on the progress made so far with this important initiative.


Notes to Editors:

Published 14 July 2021