Ofcom should move now to set up its Advisory Committee on Disinformation and Misinformation

5 April 2024 | Robert Cann

With an expected autumn 2024 UK general election, Full Fact is calling for Ofcom to set up its Advisory Committee on Disinformation and Misinformation as soon as possible. Establishing the Committee is one of the new responsibilities for Ofcom in the Online Safety Act, along with stronger duties to improve media literacy – the latter being a big campaign win for Full Fact.

Ofcom is the national communications regulator, and its remit now extends to social media companies and internet infrastructure, as well as the more traditional forms of communication such as TV, the postal service, and telephones.

The Online Safety Act received Royal Assent last October, and the news headlines at the time focused on the introduction of new rules around the safety of children on the internet, and removal of illegal content. The Act did not go far enough on tackling harmful misinformation. Nevertheless, there are elements which have the potential to be useful; it’s important that we make the most of them. 

At a hearing in Parliament on 18 March, Jessica Zucker, Director of Online Safety Policy at Ofcom, stated that the regulator was starting work on its new media literacy duties in time for this year’s expected general election. It is to launch a campaign targeted at new voters aged 18-24, with the aim of helping them to spot disinformation online, and to develop their critical thinking skills. This is an encouraging first step – Full Fact also creates media literacy content, such as our recent explainer on how to spot deepfakes.

Meanwhile Section 152 of the Act mandates that Ofcom sets up the Advisory Committee on Disinformation and Misinformation, and the signs so far do not look as good for progress on this duty – Ms Zucker said it may not appear until the end of the year. The Committee really should be up and running as soon as possible, because any further delay will unnecessarily impede progress on dealing with such harms. It would also be beneficial to have the Committee in place for an expected autumn 2024 UK general election – an election in which misinformation and disinformation could very well be circulating widely, and to which the Committee should be able to bear witness. 

The Committee has a statutory requirement to report within 18 months of its formation, so if it is established by the end of September 2024 such a report will be able to inform Ofcom’s 2026/27 plan of work. 

Informed by our experience on the frontline of tackling misinformation over the past 15 years, we have set out to Ofcom how we think the Committee should be set up. 

We have called for protections to be in place to ensure that the Chair of the Committee is independent, and not a representative of any internet platform.The last thing we need is what is called ‘regulatory capture’ - when companies abuse their power to control the agenda of a body that must act in the public interest.    

Furthermore, Full Fact has called for:

  • The Committee to have some oversight and steering of Ofcom’s research on the harms caused by disinformation and misinformation, and how it’s happening on the social media platforms we all use. 
  • The Committee to have strong representation from civil society groups, as well as representatives of UK users of social media platforms. 
  • The Committee must have a meaningful connection with people affected by harmful misinformation too, so that they are an active part of the body’s deliberations. Too often those that have experienced the harms of misinformation have not had their voices listened to and acted on. 

We want the Committee to succeed: it has the potential to make a real difference, if sufficient measures are put in place at the very beginning to give it the best possible chance of success.

Full Fact fights bad information

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