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Ofcom event – ‘Making sense of the Media’

Stéphane Goldstein, Advocacy and Outreach Officer for the CILIP Information Literacy Group (ILG), has kindly provided a report on the recent Ofcom Children’s Media Literacy event following the publication of Ofcom’s annual Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes report.

Every year, Ofcom organises an event to present the findings of its annual round of research
and analysis on young people’s use of the internet. The 2019 instalment, entitled ‘Making
sense of the Media’, took place in London on 29 January. This is a brief note of some of the
salient points.

Part 1 – Presentations from Amanda Davis (Ofcom) and Ruby Wootton and Valentina Mazzi (Revealing Reality)

The first part of the event focused on children’s content consumption, and delved on the viewing preferences of 4-16 year olds. This is a landscape dominated by YouTube, which is by far the most popular platform for this age group, followed by streaming video on demand (VOD) and then by TV (either live or catch-up). YouTube is popular because it offers maximum choice with minimum friction, with a huge variety of easily-accessible content, often catering to niche tastes and tailored for the particular likes of children. The sort of content that young people particularly appreciate includes vlogging, how-to videos, games instruction/advice… Younger children tend to like cartoons, their older peers are fond of amusing material. The unmediated character of YouTube also appeals: there is no need to compromise with viewing habits, nor to conform to the mainstream or to adult priorities. However, the project did not particularly address critical faculties applied to viewing choices.

Part 2 – Presentations from Jessica Rees (Ofcom) and Barbie Clarke (Family, Kids & Youth)

This addressed the impact of social media on young people. 20% of 8-11 year olds and 70% of 12-15 year olds have a social media profile of some sort. Facebook remains the preferred platform, but its popularity with young people is waning, whereas that of Instagram is increasing. The downside of social media is that it places a lot of pressure on young people to meet perceived expectations, to conform, particularly with regards to looking good. But there is evidence that young people can be canny about curating their content and adapting it to different peer groups/audiences, with strategies for coping with the pressures. And 91% of
12-15 year olds say that social media makes them happy; a similar proportion say that it brings them closer to their friends. There is a strong reliance on the use of personal devices for friendships. Online activity serves as an indicator of the societal issues that are of importance to young people. In order of priority, these are: equality; right to privacy; peace; fair living standards; environmental concerns; and fair treatment of animals. There is a trend in rising levels of anxiety among young people, sometimes associated with
mental health issues. But there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that online habits are bad for children’s health.

Part 3 – Presentations from Caroline Evans (Ofcom) and Claire Levens (Internet

This covered parental engagement and concerns. Parents tend to feel concerned about their children’s internet use, and in particular factors such as the way that online platforms/services collect data about their children; the way that children’s reputation could be damaged by online activity; the extraction of money from children (e.g. through games); and radicalisation. Their concerns also extend to worries about how children’s online activity might lead to lack of sleep, lack of exercise and loss of quality family time. Parents deploy a range of mediation strategies to try to keep their children safe, and 80% are doing at least something to reduce their children’s screen-time, including e.g. bans on using devices at mealtime. There are broad and often unanswered questions about what parents can effectively do to help their children’s behaviour; and how their own knowledge, practices and habits influence the advice and support that they might give.

Panel discussion chaired by Tony Close (Ofcom), with Barbie Clarke (Family, Kids & Youth), Ben Dean (DCMS), Anna-Sophie Harling (NewsGuard), Claire Levens (Internet Matters) and Karim Palant (Facebook).

The event concluded with a panel discussion. These are just a few highlights from this:

– NewsGuard can provide an easy healthcheck for young people, to help them develop trust in online sources, and to encourage them to have an understanding of what is reliable and what isn’t.- DCMS recognises that there is a range of different types of disinformation, each posing different challenges. In the past four years or so, DCMS has recognised a change in the corporate attitude of platforms such as Facebook, which are nowadays more ready to recognise their role in helping to address disinformation.
– Who educates parents in their role of supporting and advising their children regarding their online behaviour? At present, there is no clear answer, and no clear strategy to address this. But it is understood that Government should play an important role here.
– There are variations in approaches to disinformation between countries, and online platforms have to adapt to these. For instance, Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany, but not in the UK. There is also a balance to be achieved between self- regulation and legislation. It may be that children are more media-savvy in countries where there is less tolerance of harmful online content.
– It wasn’t until the end of the panel discussion that the issue of the school curriculum was raised. A comment from the audience stressed the urgent importance of better recognising media literacy in the curriculum even in early years of primary schools. Current teaching practices are haphazard and tend to be left to individual schools.


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