19 April 2024

New research on how UK adults navigate an increasingly online world

The way people use, think and feel about different types of media is constantly changing. In our latest media literacy research, we take a deep dive into how people across the UK are navigating an increasingly online world.

Published alongside our research into children’s online lives, this year’s study explores how adults across the UK feel about issues ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) to the impact of being online on their mental health.

Here we outlined some of the headline findings from this year’s report.

  1. Adults more likely to trust ‘human’ content than AI, but can they tell the difference?
    Our study shows those who are aware of AI would be more likely to trust an article written by a human, than something AI-generated. But only around a quarter of adults (27%) said they felt confident they could spot AI content online. In a controlled environment, most participants in our qualitative Adults’ Media Lives study were able to distinguish between real and AI-generated content, although many expressed concerns over how realistic the latter looked, and doubted that they would be able to spot fakes in the real world.
  2. More people feel using social media is good for their mental health.
    While public debate is often focused on the potential negative impact of being online, around two fifths (39%) of adult using social media in our study said these sites or apps were positive for their mental health. This is up from 35% in 2022. And overall, the majority of users (56%) said the benefits of being on social media outweighed the risks – also up from 52% in 2022. The only age group where a majority did not agree with this was the over 65s.
  3. Some adults may be accidentally amplifying untrue stories when encountering them online.
    Just under half of the social media users in our study (45%) said they had seen a deliberately untrue or misleading story on social media over the last year. Four in ten of those did not take any action as a result, while 14% shared the story further to alert others. But doing this can actually increase the risk to other people – exposing a wider audience to false information.
  4. Some find staying safe from scammers a challenge.
    Most adults said they felt confident in being able to spot a suspicious email or text. But when presented with an example of a scam email, more than one in 10 (12%) responded in a way that could have exposed them to a scam. And a quarter of UK adults using online banking services admitted to using the same password in multiple places, rather than using unique passwords – potentially opening them up to becoming victims of fraud. Check out our tips for staying safe from scammers.
  5. A minority of UK households remain offline, while some adults rely on a smartphone for internet access.
    Nearly all UK adults are online, but 6% of households still do not have internet access at home, a figure that has remained stable since 2021. And almost one in five adults (17%) rely solely on a smartphone to get online, rising to around three in ten of those coming from DE households.

Understanding the way people use different media and their ability to navigate the online world with confidence is a vital part of our Making Sense of Media (MSOM) programme to promote media literacy.

Alongside today’s research, we have also published our suite of best practice principles for Media Literacy by Design. Developed with the support and engagement of the academics, platforms and interest groups represented on our external working group, the principles highlight best practice for how online services can promote media literacy on their platforms.

Together with Ofcom’s Behavioural Insights experts and the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), we also conducted research to build evidence about on-platform interventions - including exploring prompts to encourage people to make an active choice about the content they see.

We invite all platforms interested in getting involved with this work or looking to demonstrate how they will use the principles, to get in touch with our MSOM team – makingsenseofmedia@ofcom.org.uk.

Find out more about our Making Sense of Media media literacy programme.

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