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Living our lives online – top trends from Ofcom’s latest research

Published: 30 March 2022
Last updated: 17 March 2023

Today we’ve published our latest research into how adults and children in the UK use and understand media.

It highlights a range of findings that offer an insight into how people in the UK access and experience information from different online media sources. One major finding is that one in three internet users fail to spot misinformation they come across online, while one in twenty believe everything they see online.

But we also uncovered other themes that help us to understand the behaviours and attitudes of adults and young people in the UK when they are online. Here are some of the top trends from our research.

1. Children leading secret lives on social

Many children could be using private social media accounts – like ‘Finstas’, fake Instagram accounts that their parents don’t know about - to hide aspects of their online lives. Two-thirds of 8- to 11-year-olds had multiple accounts or profiles, and almost half of these have an account just for their family to see.

More than a third of children also admitted to potentially risky behaviours, which could hinder a parent or guardian keeping proper checks on their online use. A fifth used incognito mode or deleted their browsing history, and one in 20 children said they circumvented parental controls so they could visit certain apps and sites.

I do have my own [TikTok] but I don't post on it anymore. It is a private account that nobody follows me on.

Male respondent, 12

2. Social media users becoming scrollers, not sharers

Children are seeing less online video content from their friends, with their feeds dominated by professional content from brands, celebrities and influencers. This slick content seems to be encouraging a trend towards scrolling instead of sharing, with both adults and children around three times as likely to watch videos online, than to post their own video content.

You see all these influencers who have millions of followers and are verified, and you think oh I want that, but really I don't care than much anymore because like anything you do if you’re big and famous, you actually get a lot more hate than likes and followers and stuff.

Female respondent, 10

3. Rise of the ‘TikTots’ - children defying age restrictions to use social platforms

Despite being under the minimum age to use social media sites (which is 13 for most platforms), a third of parents of 5-7s and two-thirds of parents of 8-11s said their kids have social media profiles. Older children are most likely to have a profile on Instagram, while children aged 8 to 11 were more likely to have profiles on TikTok and YouTube.

I have no clue what the restriction is for Instagram is. I could have it quite young because I could make a private account…For TikTok and Snapchat I think I put in a fake birthday because I was allowed to have it.

Female respondent, 12

4. Being online for wellbeing – and campaigning

Children told us they feel positive about the benefits of being online, and many use social media as a force for good. Over half of 13– to 17-year-olds feel being online is good for their mental health, while one in five disagreed.

Eight in ten 13- to 17-year-olds are using online services to support their personal wellbeing. A quarter said they have learnt about healthy eating online, or have found help with issues like relationships and puberty. A fifth said they used the internet to follow fitness programmes and health trackers, or to get help when feeling sad, anxious, or worried. Similarly, about one in 10 went online to help with sleep issues, to meditate, or to help them feel energised.

Campaigning also accounts for a degree of young people’s online activity. Nearly a quarter of teenagers follow the profiles of activists or campaigners, one in five writes posts in support of causes, and more than one in ten follow political parties or campaign groups.

[I want to] raise awareness because I know a lot of people who aren't aware about issues at all. It's not forcing... but as long as people know... then they know.

Female respondent, 17

Read more about these trends and others in our children’s and adults’ media literacy research reports.

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