More than half (54 per cent) of UK 12- to 15-year-olds use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, to access online news, making it the second most popular source of news after television (62 per cent), according to regulator Ofcom’s Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report 2017.
The news that children read via social media is provided by third-party websites. While some of these may be reputable news organisations, others may not.
But many children are wise to these risks. Just 32 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds who say social media is one of their top news sources believe news accessed through these sites is always, or mostly, reported truthfully, compared to 59 per cent who say this about TV and 59 per cent about radio.
Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of online tweens are aware of the concept of ‘fake news’, and four in ten (39 per cent) say they have seen a fake news story online or on social media.
This year, the report examines for the first time how children aged 12 to15 consume news and online content.
Filtering fake news
The vast majority of 12-15s who follow news on social media are questioning the content they see. Almost nine in ten (86 per cent) say they would make at least one practical attempt to check whether a social media news story is true or false.
The main approaches older children say they would take include:
Some 63 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds who are aware of fake news are prepared to do something about it, with 35 per cent saying they would tell their parents or other family member. Meanwhile, 18 per cent would leave a comment saying they thought the news story was fake; and 14 per cent would report the content to the social media website directly.
But some children still need help telling fact from fiction, almost half (46 per cent) of 12-15s who use social media for news say they find it difficult to tell whether a social media news story is true and 8 per cent say they wouldn’t make any checks.
Emily Keaney, Head of Children’s Research at Ofcom, said: “Most older children now use social media to access news, so it’s vitally important they can take time to evaluate what they read, particularly as it isn’t always easy to tell fact from fiction. It’s reassuring that almost all children now say they have strategies for checking whether a social media news story is true or false. There may be two reasons behind this: lower trust in news shared through social media, but the digital generation are also becoming savvy online.”
Children’s online lives
More children are using the Internet than ever before. Nine in ten (92 per cent of 5- to 15-year-olds) are online in 2017 – up from 87 per cent last year.
More than half of pre-schoolers (53 per cent of 3-4s) and 79 per cent of 5-7s are online – a year-on-year increase of 12 percentage points for both these age groups.
Much of this growth is driven by the increased use of tablets: 65 per cent of 3-4s, and 75 per cent of 5-7s now use these devices at home – up from 55 per cent and 67 per cent respectively in 2016.
Children’s social media preferences have also shifted over recent years. In 2014, 69 per cent of 12-15s had a social media profile, and most of these (66 per cent) said their main profile was on Facebook. The number of 12-15s with a profile now stands at 74 per cent, while the number of these who say Facebook is their main profile has dropped to 40 per cent.
In contrast, Snapchat has rapidly grown in popularity among this ‘tween’ group. More than three in ten (32 per cent) say it’s their main social media profile, up from just 3 per cent in 2014.
Though most social media platforms require users to be 13 or over, they are very popular with younger children. More than a quarter (28 per cent) of 10-year-olds have a social media profile, rising to around half of children aged 11 or 12 (46 per cent and 51 per cent respectively).
Awareness of the required minimum age is low among parents. Six in ten parents of children who use Facebook (62 per cent), and around eight in ten parents of children who use Instagram or Snapchat (79 per cent and 85 per cent) either didn’t know there was an age restriction, or gave the incorrect age.
Many parents choose not to apply minimum age limits. Among parents of children aged between 5 and 15, over four in ten (43 per cent) said they would allow their child to use social media sites ahead of them reaching the minimum age required.
One reason for this could be that nearly all parents of 5-15 year olds (96 per cent) say they mediate their children’s use of the Internet. This includes having regular conversations with their child about online safety, using technical tools such as network-level filters, imposing rules about internet use, or directly supervising their child. Two in five parents (40 per cent) use all four methods.
More parents of children aged 5 to 15 are using network-level filters at home – 37 per cent did so last year, nearly twice the level in 2014.
Aside from social media, one of the primary online destinations for children of all ages is YouTube, with eight in ten (81 per cent) children aged 5 to 15 regularly using the website to watch short clips or programmes.
Among older children, YouTube is the most recognised content brand; 94 per cent of 12-15s have heard of it compared to 89 per cent for ITV, 87 per cent for Netflix, and 82 per cent for BBC One and Two.
Negative online experiences
Half of children (49 per cent) aged 12 to 15 who use the internet say they ‘never’ see hateful content online. But the proportion of children who have increased this year, from 34 per cent in 2016 to 45 per cent in 2017.
More than a third (37 per cent) of children who saw this type of content took some action. The most common response was to report it to the website in question (17 per cent). Other steps included adding a counter-comment to say they thought it was wrong (13 per cent), and blocking the person who shared or made the hateful comments (12 per cent).
Review of children’s content on television
Today’s research shows that most 8- to 15-year-olds believe there are enough programmes on television for children their age, and the content suitably reflects their lives.
But some 8- to 15-year-olds disagree. One third (35 per cent) of 8- to 11-year-olds who watch TV say that not enough programmes show children that look like them; while 41 per cent of 12-15s say that too few programmes show children living in their part of the country.
Building on this research, Ofcom has launched a Review of Children’s Content. It will examine the range and quality of children’s programmes across TV broadcasters and content providers, and highlight any areas of concern.
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