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What should media literacy by design look like?

Published: 31 October 2023
Last updated: 31 October 2023

Ofcom is seeking views on how tech firms can design their platforms in a way that promotes and supports their users’ digital literacy.

As well as taking steps to reduce the risk of their users encountering harmful material, platforms can also empower people make informed decisions about what they do online. Developing strong media literacy skills can help internet users engage with online services critically, safely and effectively.

On-platform interventions can help people build these skills. This could be a notification about the source of information, or a prompt to think about whether you really want to post something. These interventions are often initiated when major issues arise, such as pandemics and wars.

Ofcom has an ongoing duty to promote media literacy, under the Communications Act 2003. In addition to our work that directly helps people develop their media literacy skills, we have also been looking at the important role that platforms can play in this too.

Vital tools for all users

New Ofcom research illustrates that there is a generational divide in both people’s attitudes towards on-platform interventions, and how often they reported seeing them.

Younger people, who spend more of their time online, were much more likely to have seen any sort of intervention – labels, overlays, prompts, notifications or resources – and YouTube, Instagram and TikTok were the platforms where most were seen. Young people also reported being more aware of the tools platforms provided, and felt more confident in using them.

Examples of how different on-platform interventions look like on a mock online platform. These include labels, overlays, prompts, notifications and resources.

Both adults and teenagers felt that interventions were useful – mostly for others rather than themselves – for flagging sensitive or upsetting content. Adults especially believed that these tools are vital for children.

Best practice design principles

While every platform is different, Ofcom has suggested some common principles for how services of all sizes can approach embedding media literacy in their design.  These provide guidance under three themes, focusing on how services can:

  1. Become accountable for making media literacy a priority, and increase transparency surrounding the development and impact of media literacy intervention;
  2. Put user needs at the centre of the design process and ensure interventions are timely;
  3. Monitor and evaluate media literacy interventions on an ongoing basis.

These principles are neither exhaustive nor legally binding, but rather are intended to encourage best practice. We are seeking views on them by Monday 18 December, and will publish a final version after we have reviewed responses.

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