Teenage girl at desk on computer

Why we’re reaching out to help people lead a safer life online

Published: 27 September 2022
Last updated: 17 March 2023

Media literacy is crucial in helping to build a safer life online. It empowers us to become informed digital decision-makers and, importantly, to identify and protect ourselves and others against harmful content. It’s also our ticket to fully participating in society, at a time when keeping connected with the world, services and people around us has never been more important.

Fay Lant, one of Ofcom’s resident media literacy experts, talks about an important new pilot initiative to help improve online safety among local communities most at risk of online harm.

Media literacy is something I’ve been passionately promoting for much of my career, having worked at the National Literacy Trust and now as a member of Ofcom’s Making Sense of Media team.

Ofcom has special duties to promote media literacy. This means we must consider how adults and children can benefit from all that being online has to offer, safely. We use these insights to inform the sector what works in improving people’s online media literacy. And that’s where our Making Sense of Media programme comes in.

Our research has consistently shown that not everyone has the skills they need to stay safe online. So today, we’re looking for organisations across the UK that are working to help people most at risk of online harm to improve their online skills, knowledge and understanding.

Organisations working with older people and those at risk of digital exclusion; people with mental health challenges or disabilities; and children aged 10-14 years can apply for one of three tenders to help support their vital work. We will prioritise support for organisations working with financially disadvantaged communities.

You can access more information about the tenders on our eTendering portal and download a guide to registering (PDF, 278.9 KB). The deadline for submissions is midday on 25 October 2022.

1. Protecting older adults and those at risk of digital exclusion from scam and frauds

Older people are far less likely to have access to the internet at home – over a quarter (26%) of over 75s don’t have access, compared to an average of just 6%. As a result, when they do use the internet, older adults are less likely to have the confidence and ability to stay safe online. This may make this age group more vulnerable to online scams.

It was the first time that I'd seen this thing about sending your £1.50 or something to release the parcel. And I was on the verge of being convinced by it.

Male, 77, Retired, Warwick (Adult’s Media Lives 2022, Ofcom)

I'm still quite frightened of technology. In my new job they use Teams and they were looking for early adopters… but I wasn't comfortable being taught the technology. Simply because I thought: I can hold on for four or five months and then we'll revert back to the old chalk and talk type thing. But of course it hasn’t worked out that way... Either I'm not going to be employed or I've got to get myself involved.

Male, 66, Semi-retired, Pinner (Adults' Media Lives 2021)

2. Building coping strategies for people with mental health challenges and/or disabilities

People living with mental health challenges or disabilities may face additional challenges to living a safer life online. We know people with mental health conditions may find it harder to interact with services online and could be at greater risk to a range of online harms including increased exposure to harmful content.

There are a lot of troubled people on there [Facebook]… I didn’t like it. I was getting hassled by blokes, or every now and then an ex-boyfriend would pop up and I just thought "What’s the point? I don’t even really enjoy it". The only real reason I stayed on there was to speak to my family on the Messenger.

Female, 48, Stay-at-home Mum, Chelmsford (Adults' Media Lives 2022)

3. Setting up for success children and young people aged 10-14 years

Being online helps children to be creative, learn new skills and find out more about the world but they need help to develop the necessary critical knowledge to set them up for success online.

Two thirds (65%) of 10-year-olds have their own social media account and the vast majority use video sharing platforms. But we found that over a quarter of children who claimed to be confident in spotting misinformation were unable to identify a fake social media profile in practice.

It’s really annoying, because I keep getting things that I don’t like… I don’t know how to change it. I actually have no clue [why I’m seeing these things] and I really want to change my For You page and just have normal things on it. My For You page has really ‘weird’ things on it and I don’t know how to change it.

Suzy, 10 (Children’s Media Lives 2022, Ofcom)

I kept on getting pictures of beaches and little Italian towns. I was like ‘I’m so confused, why are you showing me these things?’ Instagram has done a thing where it’s like ‘based on what you’re liking on your Instagram feed’. I think it was just annoying me that I had so many pictures of beaches.

Josie, 17 (Children’s Media Lives 2022, Ofcom)
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