UK public as concerned by the spread of misinformation as immigration and Brexit and the EU

14 October 2021 | Team Full Fact

Our research found that the UK public is as concerned by the spread of misinformation as it is by issues such as immigration and Brexit.

Our data shows levels of public concern were comparable to fair wages and low pay, crime, law and order, Brexit, the Common Market and the EU and immigration. 

We also found when specifically asked if they are worried about the spread of misinformation, 3 in 4 UK adults agreed, and that more people see the spread of misinformation as a top issue in the UK than taxation.  

The government made a manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while also defending free expression, and the draft Online Safety Bill is the proposed new law and regulations to attempt to make that happen. The Online Safety Bill is a landmark piece of legislation and the government has said it will deliver its manifesto commitment.

For the first time in the UK online platforms will have a duty of care towards their users, requiring them to take action against illegal content, content that could harm children and content that could harm adults. And Ofcom will be the new regulator. 

However, despite palpably high levels of public concern, the draft Bill has a reduced scope from earlier proposals on misinformation and disinformation, weakening its ability to address the harms it poses.  

The misinformation that has come with the pandemic has made this even more evident that bad information ruins lives. We cannot go on relying on internet companies to make decisions without independent scrutiny and transparency. 

A growing majority believe there is more lying and misuse of facts in politics and media in the UK than there used to be. However half believe online misinformation is a problem that can be solved. Full Fact has long called for the government to take action, and we’re now calling for:

  • Legislation which tackles bad information: the Bill should explicitly address the problems of harmful misinformation and disinformation online, and the harms it can cause to individuals, communities and democracy.  
  • Clearly defined specific harms on the face of the Bill so it is clear what the law and regulation means to address; too much is left for secondary legislation. 
  • Measures to better protect freedom of expression: the Bill doesn’t give enough democratic, transparent oversight of decisions made by either government or internet companies. 
  • Steps to protect votes: the Bill should improve democracy by protecting against harmful misinformation in elections, with the UK having a Canada-style Critical Election Incident Public Protocol. 

According to Full Fact’s research, 49% of UK adults believe they often see stories where news organisations have deliberately said something that isn’t true. 1 in 3 find it difficult to distinguish true information about news and current affairs from false online. 

Download the research

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.