Full Fact campaign wins improved media literacy in the Online Safety Bill

28 July 2023 | Glen Tarman, Head of Policy

Long before the Online Safety Bill was introduced to Parliament, Full Fact was calling for better provisions to improve media literacy skills in the UK.

The online world has vast amounts of harmful content, including misinformation. Day in day out, Full Fact works to counter bad information, and we know just how hard it can be to spot the truth from fiction. That’s why it’s so important that all of us have the media literacy skills to navigate harmful content online.

Good media literacy is a frontline defence. It can make the difference between decisions based on sound evidence, and decisions based on poorly informed opinions, that can harm health and wellbeing, social cohesion, and democracy. 

The Online Safety Bill was introduced to Parliament in March 2022. Throughout its passage Full Fact has been working with parliamentarians to improve the Bill, including by pressuring the Government to introduce changes to strengthen the Bill's approach to media literacy - among other things by tabling amendments to Ofcom's existing media literacy duty.

Right now, the Bill falls short of the Government’s aim to make the UK the safest place to be online. It’s a missed opportunity to tackle the harms caused by misinformation and disinformation, and to safeguard freedom of expression.

But earlier this month, the Government finally listened to advice from Full Fact and concerned MPs and Peers and introduced amendments to the Online Safety Bill to improve online media literacy. 

The amendments, now agreed by the House of Lords, will update Ofcom’s media literacy duty under the Communications Act 2003 to introduce new objectives relating specifically to social media and search platforms. 

We are particularly pleased to see that Ofcom will be required to focus specifically on helping the public establish the reliability, accuracy and authenticity of information they encounter online, and to understand how to better protect themselves and others from misinformation and disinformation. 

Additionally, Ofcom will have to:

  • publish a media literacy strategy every 3 years, and then report annually on their progress, 
  • publish recommendations for stakeholders, including tech companies and other organisations delivering media literacy initiatives, and
  • undertake research to support their work.

These important changes to the Online Safety Bill are exactly what Full Fact has been calling for on the regulator and media literacy. If implemented effectively, the changes will build the public's resilience to misinformation and equip us all with the skills needed to recognise and act on online harms. 

As a member of Ofcom’s advisory panel on media literacy, Full Fact is looking forward to working with the regulator as they put in place their plans for delivery to update their work on media literacy.

However, because the Government’s amendments only apply to Ofcom, they will still require cooperation from the platforms they regulate - companies who, despite these amendments, will still be able to opt-out from tackling the problem. Full Fact will continue to call for the largest platforms to have a duty to promote media literacy to their users.

Moreover, if the Government recognises the danger posed by bad information online, as the new media literacy provisions on bad information online indicate, why aren’t they doing more in the Bill to tackle harms at the source?

Full Fact is deeply disappointed with the Government’s wider failure to introduce adequate regulation to address the way that platforms treat harmful misinformation and disinformation, leaving too much power in the hands of self-interested internet companies. As it stands, the Bill doesn’t go far enough to protect us from bad information or protect freedom of expression, and Full Fact will continue to demand better regulation to protect us all.

The Online Safety Bill and misinformation: what you need to know

Full Fact fights bad information

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