Digital Media Literacy: UK

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Misinformation / DML Prevalence: UK

Misinformation / DML Prevalence: UK

The media and Facebook campaigns that Russia-aligned media carried out during the UK elections is an example of a high profile misinformation event in the UK. Other examples include 1) the prevalence of fake news in domestic political campaigning during the December 12, 2019, UK general elections and the resulting erosion of public faith in political rhetoric and 2) the Cambridge Analytica misinformation campaign scandal that was at play during the June 2016 Brexit Referendum. The misconceptions about Brexit among the leave supporters, lack of sufficient digital literacy among the people, the BBC creating a system to fight fake news with the help of major technology firms, and crypto-currency scams using celebrity endorsements are four other high profile misinformation events/awareness examples in the UK in the past five years. The details of these seven examples are compiled into the attached spreadsheet.

#1 Foreign Intervention in Political Campaigns

#2 Fake News in Domestic Political Campaigning

#3 The Cambridge Analytica Misinformation Scandal

#4 Prevailing Public Misperceptions on Brexit

  • A King's College London survey conducted in 2018 shows that only 29% of the British public rightly understands that the European immigrants in Britain pay more in tax than the total amount in benefits and services they avail in the UK. The fact is that the immigrants paid an excess amount of around £4.7bn in taxes than what they received as social benefits and services. Around 42% of leave EU supporters thought that the immigrants are benefiting more than what they are paying to the country.
  • 75% of leave supporters incorrectly think that European immigration to the UK has increased crime. 53% of leave supporters incorrectly think that European immigration to the UK has decreased the quality of health care in the UK. 61% of leave supporters also think that European immigration caused higher unemployment among low-skilled workers in the UK.
  • The British public also "hugely underestimates" the investments that the UK receives from European countries. Almost 65% of both conservative and labour leave supporters believe that the UK is giving £350m every week to the European Union.

#5 Lack of Digital Literacy

#6 BBC and Technology Firms Join Hands to Fight Fake News

  • The BBC, with the support of Google, Twitter, and Facebook, has devised a plan to fight fake news. The plan includes an early warning system, media education, voter information, and shared learning. The early warning system enables organizations to share fake news with each other that could threaten democracy and people's lives.
  • The BBC, along with Google, Twitter, and Facebook, will launch a media education campaign and will cooperate on useful public information during elections.
  • High profile elections in the UK will see the BBC promoting shared learning in collaboration with the technology firms mentioned above. Earlier, the BBC had organized a Trusted News Summit where all the major technology firms were brought together.

#7 Celebrity influencers misinformation campaign on crypto-currency

  • The BBC reports that millions of pounds of money has been lost in crypto-currency scams in which websites use celebrity influencer endorsements to sell their misinformation. It includes not only celebrity endorsements but social media posts as well. The websites present themselves as highly professional and make claims that people can make large sums of money overnight by buying crypto-currency.
  • Each victim of these crypto-currency scams lose, on an average, £14,600. Crypto-currency frauds have tripled over the last year.

Research Strategy

We scoured UK newspapers and government reports on misinformation campaigns in recent years and identified the 2019 UK Parliamentary Committee report that mentioned the Russian misinformation campaign during UK elections. The team also identified a news article on the 2017 Brexit misinformation campaign allegedly carried out by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm. Another newspaper article identified by the research team presents the details of the prevailing public awareness about the misinformation in electioneering. This erosion of public trust is caused by the wide use of fake news in electioneering by all political parties. The research team also found a white paper published by the UK government that discusses the lack of digital media literacy among the people, and especially among children and young adults. Another high profile report on digital media literacy that we included on this list is the new initiative by the BBC to fight fake news. Celebrity endorsement misinformation campaign to promote crypto-currency scams is the last item included on this list. The BBC reported that people have lost millions to this scam.

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DML Government Actions: UK

Actions that the UK government has taken over the past 5 years to respond to mis/disinformation, with express focus on digital media literacy / empowering users, have been compiled in the "2 — DML Government Actions" tab of the attached spreadsheet. Examples provided include all branches of government, from the education department and the health department, to the House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as the federal government strategies and policies.

DML Government Actions: UK

The actions listed in the spreadsheet are as follows:
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DML Players, Part 1: UK

Key players in the digital media literacy space in the UK include Family Online Safety Institute, Ofcom, Skooville, The UK Safer Internet Centre, and The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Details on each player have been compiled in the "3 — DML Players" tab of the attached spreadsheet.

Family Online Safety Institute

  • Family Online Safety Institute is one of the key players in the digital media literacy space in the UK due to the fact that it publishes research, resources, events and special projects, FOSI promotes a culture of responsibility online and encourages a sense of digital citizenship.
  • Examples of its work published within the last 12 months include a policy and research report titled "Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence", and reports titled "Online Safety Across the Generations" and "Connected Families: How Parents Think & Feel about Wearables, Toys, and the Internet of Things".
  • Initiatives offered by the Institute include 2019 Annual Conference titled "2020 Vision: The Future of Online Safety" and a panel discussion: titled "Inclusion, Accessibility and Tech".


  • Ofcom is an independent regulator for all media releases in the UK. As such, it is solely responsible for giving recommendations to the UK Government regarding social media, movies, songs, articles, and other publications, and their effect on the citizens.
  • Examples of its work published within the last 12 months include a policy and research report titled "Making Sense of Media", a report titled "Adults' media literacy", a research titled "Children’s Media Use and Attitudes", and a report "Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2018."


  • Skooville is owned, hosted and maintained by IMA an organization whose charter is to provide innovative, fun and safe social learning environments and activities for the purpose of positively shaping children's behaviors.
  • Examples of its work published within the last 12 months include a policy and research report focused on child safety and online safety rules report.

The UK Safer Internet Centre

  • The UK Safer Internet Centre is a partnership that was appointed by the European Commission as the Safer Internet Centre for the UK in January 2011 and is one of the 31 Safer Internet Centres of the Insafe network.
  • The UK Safer Internet Centre runs initiatives including Pupil Powered E-Safety, Childnet Digital Leaders Programme, Childnet Film Competition, and #up2us film for Safer Internet Day.
  • The reports published by the Centre in the last 12 months include "Digital Friendships Report" and "Our Internet, Our Choice Report".

The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

  • The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) helps to "drive growth, enrich lives and promote Britain abroad. DCMS has a vision to drive growth, enrich lives and promote Britain to the world."
  • Its reports include "Culture is Digital: June 2019 progress report", "Disinformation and 'fake news': Interim Report", "Digital Skills and Inclusion", and "Online Harms White Paper — April 2019".
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DML Players, Part 2: UK

Additional key players in the digital media literacy space in the UK include the Government Communication Service, Media Smart, House of Commons — Science and Technology Committee, Information Literacy Group, and the UK Council for Internet Safety. Details on each player have been compiled in the "3 — DML Players" tab of the attached spreadsheet. Each of the players was chosen based on the fact they are the most active in the space regarding the number of programs and initiatives offered.

Government Communication Service

  • Government Communication Service is a professional body for people working in communications roles across government.
  • The reason why this government organization is considered to be one of the key players in the digital media literacy space is the fact it publishes multiple reports on an annual basis aimed towards the general public regarding digital media literacy, including the "Resist: Counter-disinformation toolkit" and the "Government Communication Service (GCS) Handbook".
  • Additionally, it also actively recruits digital media literacy professionals as part of its Fast Stream program.

Media Smart

  • Media Smart is a non-government, non-profit industry player that provides free media literacy teaching resources for 7-11 and 11-16 year olds.
  • The reason why this organization is considered to be one of the key players in the digital media literacy space is the fact it publishes a wide range of resources on an annual basis focused on fields such as advertising, digital advertising and social media.
  • Resources are published on a monthly basis and include presentations, handbooks, short films, and free teaching materials that can be used in schools and by parents.

House of Commons - Science and Technology Committee

  • The Science and Technology Committee's goal is "to ensure that Government policy and decision-making are based on good scientific and engineering advice and evidence."
  • The reason why this government organization is considered to be one of the key players in the digital media literacy space is the fact it publishes multiple reports on an annual basis aimed towards the general public regarding digital media literacy, including the reports titled "Impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health" and "Online safety education".
  • The Committee is also in charge of introducing "a levy on social media firms to pay for educational programmes that teach young people digital literacy skills and help them spot fake news."

Information Literacy Group

  • The Information Literacy Group is a special interest group that "encourages debate and the exchange of knowledge in all aspects of information literacy."
  • The reason why this organization is considered to be one of the key players in the digital media literacy space is the fact it is very active in hosting digital media literacy events on a monthly basis, hosting international conferences, and publishing papers regarding digital media literacy for the general public.

UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS)

  • UKCIS is a voluntary, non-statutory body, supported by a small secretariat team and is a "collaborative forum through which government, the tech community and the third sector work together to ensure the UK is the safest place in the world to be online."
  • The reason why this organization is considered to be one of the key players in the digital media literacy space is the fact it publishes multiple reports on an annual basis regarding digital media literacy. The reports published by UKCIS in the last 12 months include Education for a Connected World- Framework, Tackling Race and Faith Targeted Bullying Face To Face and Online: A Guide For Schools, Using External Visitors to Support Online Safety, and Online safety in schools and colleges: Questions from the Governing Board.
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DML Initiatives, Part 1: UK

Three initiatives in the UK (England) are the Digital Charter (a guiding policy from the government), MediaSmart (an educational program developed with advertising professionals), and the UK Council for Internet Safety (a committee under the umbrella of three government ministries). Our findings have been provided in the attached spreadsheet.

Digital Charter

  • The Digital Charter is a policy document developed by the UK government.
  • Because different parts of the government are responsible for different parts of digital media literacy, there is no single type of target audience.
  • "The internet is a powerful force for good. It serves humanity, spreads ideas, and enhances freedom and opportunity across the world. We are investing an additional £7 billion in research and development by 2021/22, delivering significant upgrades to our digital infrastructure, and ensuring that people are ready to seize the opportunities of technology through investing in our skills system. As well as opportunities, new technologies have brought new challenges and risks. The government must lead the way in tackling these challenges.
  • An updated draft of the Digital Charter was published in January 2018 with details of the work program.
  • This approach is unique in that it appears to be disjointed. Responsibility for media literacy, digital competences, and safe use of new media involves several government departments and agencies. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for media and young people; the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Minister for Sport, Tourism, and Heritage is the minister responsible for domestic online safety issues. The Home Office has responsibility for cybersecurity and counter-terrorism. The Department for Education has responsibilities for the school curriculum, education programs, and safeguarding and Ofsted for inspecting the arrangements for these at school and college level. Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom (the Office of Communications), the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, has a responsibility to promote, and to carry out research in, media literacy.
  • Because so many government departments are responsible for separate parts of the DML, no one is responsible. There is no national digital media strategy in the UK. The Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA), of the European Commission states that the UK has no standalone national policy addressing media literacy. There is a charter that outlines the desired end state, but the implementation path is unclear.


  • MediaSmart is a cross-sector collaboration between the advertising industry and the education sector.
  • It provides online tools and resources to teach students between the ages of 7 and 16 critical thinking and media use.
  • "We are a non-profit education program from the advertising industry. Our mission is to ensure that every child in the UK, aged 7 – 16, can confidently navigate the media they consume, including being able to identify, interpret and critically evaluate all forms of advertising. Our innovative educational resources are designed to provide the understanding and tools they need to be critical consumers of the media, looking at important subjects like social media and digital advertising, influencer marketing, and body image."
  • Initially launched in 2002, it has been revitalized with new guidelines in Digital Charter.
  • In May 2019, the site had 6681 hits for the month. In September 2019, the site had 19,8667 hits for the month. The start of classes likely causes this increase.

UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS)

  • The UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) is a collaborative forum through which the government, the tech community, and the third sector work together to ensure the UK is the safest place in the world to be online. UKCIS is part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the Department for Education and the Home Office.
  • UKCIS will contribute towards the following strategic goals: A safer online experience for the most vulnerable groups. UKCIS will seek to understand the patterns of abuse of vulnerable groups better, identifying areas for a cross-sector response. Priority areas include protecting children online, tackling radicalization and extremism, violence against women and girls, serious violence, hate crime/hate speech, and forms of discrimination against protected groups.
  • Products, platforms, and services that are 'safer by default' for all users are to be defined. UKCIS will help identify, prioritize, and communicate ways in which improved design of digital products and platforms can create an online environment that is safer for all users.
  • They are providing parents, teachers, and professionals with the tools to recognize and respond to online harms. UKCIS acknowledges the critical role that intermediaries have in supporting online safety and will examine opportunities for cross-sector activities to support their work better.
  • UKCIS will help to ensure a coherent response by highlighting emerging issues revealed by existing systems of reporting; and horizon-scanning for potential problems caused by new technologies. There have been two meetings of this group, one in November 2018 and one in July 2019. A review of the minutes of each meeting showed no measurable actions.
  • Inertia is common in any government group that has to satisfy the political needs of three different departments.
  • The programs and resources that are provided under the charter are focused on the safety of the user. The programs in France and Germany promote the positive aspects of digital media literacy and, in that context, teach critical thinking and information safety. In the UK, the policy focus is on warnings, safety, concern for children who use the internet. The program is just getting off the ground, so it is unknown of the deliverers of the program will present digital media literacy as a positive tool to embrace or a dangerous one to fear.
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DML Initiatives, Part 2: UK

These two initiatives are from separate countries in the UK, Wales and Scotland. Wales has a vibrant digital media literacy program for adults and Scotland has a complex integrated Digital media strategy that is inclusive of all stakeholders. The findings have also been provided in the attached spreadsheet.

Sigliau Hanfodol Cymru (Open Wales)

  • This non-profit organization defines the framework, provides resources for educators, and certifies the successful completion of the students in its programs. It is conceptually a post-secondary (higher education) organization.
  • It teaches critical thinking and media use in person.
  • Agored Cymru's Essential Skills Wales (ESW) qualifications support the development of skills needed for education, work, and life. They are aimed at those accessing learning in a wide range of environments outside of mainstream school.
  • One of the qualifications in the Essential Skills certification is the Essential Skills Digital Literacy. There are six modules within this qualification, three entry-level assessment modules."
  • This program has been evolving for 30 years to meet the needs of adults that do not have the skills to be employable, starting with students less than 16 years old who have left the traditional education track. The digital literacy is a relatively new module, but the data it was added is not available. Like the program as a whole, it is continually evolving as technology and information needs of day to day life and employers change.
  • DML is provided in 300 centres across Wales, including every college of further education, councils, community education, training providers, health boards, schools, prisons, charities, and other businesses.
  • For those seeking employment, this program is provided primarily by well-trained educators in existing education and employment settings. For adults seeking basic skills to live in the public sphere, this program is offered at community centers or anywhere. It is difficult to see any serious pitfalls in this program.
  • This is a very successful program that is well respected by both educators and employers. A big part of its success is its integration into existing delivery streams of education and employment, as well as its flexibility in revising existing skills as identified by the employers and including them in the current delivery model.

National Action Plan on Internet Safety for Children and Young People in Scotland

  • The Scottish Government published its National Action Plan on Internet Safety for Children and Young People in 2017. The new plan sets out actions to be taken over the next four years, with a mid-term progress review in 2019.
  • The Scottish Government and Education Scotland are mainly responsible for implementation, in partnership with other bodies such as the NHS, Police Scotland, and third sector organizations.
  • "While Scotland may have lagged behind others in emphasizing the importance of digital learning in its curriculum guidelines, it has begun to catch up with the recently published digital learning and teaching strategy for Scotland. The digital strategy is being supported by the Digital Schools Awards Programme with 21 schools now having achieved the award."
  • What differentiates Scotland's digital media strategy from other countries is its deliberate efforts to ensure alignment between the DML and other entities in society. This means not only offering DML in the schools but involving youth work organizations, disabled people's organizations, Parent Zone International, Police Scotland, National Health Service, Child protection committees, digital media providers, National Trauma Training Framework for Professionals and academic research on the topic. It is an extremely comprehensive approach to building a supporting foundation around DML.
  • The potential pitfall of this initiative is its complexity. While the approach is comprehensive, it is ambitious and will require experienced management skills to keep all the balls in the air.
  • As well as the complex linkages in the Scottish DML, the country is also committed to being part of the UK programs described in rows 5 and 7 above.
  • Scotland has also identified policy which needs to be reviewed in light of the introduction of DML. The strategy documents include the areas of Child Sexual Exploitation, a digital strategy for the country, a digital participation strategy for its citizens, a CyberResilience strategy, a strategy for eradicating and preventing violence against women and children, a counterterrorism strategy in partnership with England, the Human trafficking strategy, mental health strategy and finally education."
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The Future of DML, Part 1: UK

Five opinion pieces / online commentary around the future of digital media literacy in the UK compiled in the attached spreadsheet include a report by OfCom, an independent regulatory body in the UK, an opinion piece by a professor at the London School of Economics, a report by the UK Council for Internet Safety, a non-profit organization, an article published by Literacy Trust UK based on scientific research, and a white paper by New Scientist, an online scientific website.

Opinion pieces and online commentary around the future of digital media literacy in the UK

  • OfCom (UK's communications regulator)'s report into kids' habits when it comes to digital media literacy gives clear insights and provides commentary regarding how children consume content, and to what extent they understand what they are watching.
  • Gianfranco Polizzi (London School of Economics PhD researcher)'s opinion piece talks about ways to promote digital media literacy by offering different programs in libraries and online.
  • UK Council for Internet Safety's 2019 report gives recommendations to the UK Government about continuing to monitor digital media literacy and ensure students are taught proper use of digital media. T
  • Literacy Trust UK's article about fake news gives expert opinion into people not being able to understand or different between fake and real news in the UK.
  • New Scientist's white paper calls for the government to give regulator the power to force internet firms to publish annual transparency reports when it comes to the harmful content on their platforms as well as how they are addressing it
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The Future of DML, Part 2: UK

Additional opinion pieces / online commentary around the future of digital media literacy in the UK include an academic article, a report by Reuters based on viewing data, an opinion piece blog post by the Chancelor of an online university, a white paper in an online data and science magazine, and a blog post by a charity council in the UK. These insights around the future of digital media literacy in the UK have been compiled in the "5 — DML opinion / commentary" tab of the attached spreadsheet.

The Future of DML

  • Researchers at Illinois Institute of Technology, United States (Monika Sziron and Elisabeth Hildt) give recommendations into how digital citizenship programs can help boost digital media literacy.
  • Reuters Institute and University of Oxford provide insights into social media companies' initiatives to boost digital media literacy.
  • Josie Fraser (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, The Open University) recommends how to address digital media literacy gaps in workers older than 34 years old.
  • Monica Bulger and Patrick Davison (Data & Society Paper) outlines five key recommendations on how media literacy can be boosted in the future by engaging different stakeholders
  • Kathryn Parry-Wilkes (Blog post for SVCO — a charity council in the UK) gives recommendations around how agencies can help employers reap the benefits of digital media literacy

From Part 01
  • "Kremlin-aligned media published significant numbers of unique articles about the EU referendum. 89 Up researchers analysed the most shared of the articles, and identified 261 with a clear anti-EU bias to the reporting. The two main outlets were RT and Sputnik, with video produced by Ruptly."
  • "271 The articles that went most viral had the heaviest anti-EU bias.272 The social reach of these anti-EU articles published by the Kremlin-owned channels was 134 million potential impressions, in comparison with a total reach of just 33 million and 11 million potential impressions for all content shared from the Vote Leave website and Leave.EU website respectively.273 The value for a comparable paid social media campaign would be between £1.4 and 4.14 million."
  • "A photo of a four-year-old child lying on the hospital floor with suspected pneumonia was the focus of widespread outcry, perceived as a symptom of the NHS in crisis. Though the hospital apologized for the boy’s experience, the image was quickly met with shouts of fake news, and accusations of politicians using the photo to political advantage. "
  • "The public is aware of the erosion of truth: Prime minister Boris Johnson was laughed at by a debate audience for saying he thought “truth matters.”"
  • "“In my political memory, it’s never been like this,” Steven Barnett, a professor of communications at the University of Westminster in London, told the news outlet. “It’s quite a clever strategy, but it serves to undermine faith in the whole political system. There’s a greater sense of skepticism and cynicism about any of the promises that are made.”"
  • "And Cambridge Analytica is one point of focus through which we can see all these relationships in play; it also reveals the elephant in the room as we hurtle into a general election: Britain tying its future to an America that is being remade - in a radical and alarming way - by Trump."
  • "It was from Facebook that Cambridge Analytica obtained its vast dataset in the first place. Earlier, psychologists at Cambridge University harvested Facebook data (legally) for research purposes and published pioneering peer-reviewed work about determining personality traits, political partisanship, sexuality and much more from people’s Facebook “likes”. "
  • "“The goal is to capture every single aspect of every voter’s information environment,” said David. “And the personality data enabled Cambridge Analytica to craft individual messages.”"
  • " A number of recent independent reports have also highlighted the specific need for improved digital literacy, including the DCMS Select Committee’s report into disinformation74 and the Cairncross report on A sustainable future for journalism.75 Children have also told us that they want more education about online safety, as well as more support from tech companies to keep them safe"
  • "Plans to help tackle so-called "fake news" have been announced by the BBC and some of the biggest names in journalism and technology. The new measures include an early warning system for use during elections or when lives may be at risk, extra online education and improved access to impartial resources for voters. Major publishers, Google, Twitter and Facebook have helped devise the scheme."
  • "The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the City watchdog, said that celebrity endorsements and images of luxury items such as expensive watches and cars on social media posts were often used to promote schemes. These then linked to professional-looking websites where consumers were persuaded to invest."
From Part 02
From Part 03
From Part 04