16 July 2018
By Rebecca Avery

Navigating news in an online world: New Ofcom research

Ofcom has recently published two qualitative research reports on what people think and feel about the news, and how they consume it. Sharon White, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, has written insights on the findings.

Key findings:

  • For people who access news online:
    • The primary device they are getting their news through is their smartphone.
    • The primary platform they are reaching most of their news through is social media.
    • The primary mindset with which they approach news is now passive
  • The news landscape has changed significantly over recent years
    • Online news is playing an increasing role – almost two-thirds of people use the internet for news.
  • Some people feel overwhelmed by the increasing volume of news
    • Some feel a sense of social pressure to keep up with the news (aka 'fear of missing out' or 'FOMO'), while others admit to feeling fatigued by the amount of negative news stories they are exposed to.
  • People tend to underestimate how much news they consume online
    • A lot of online news is processed unconsciously, where people are exposed to news stories without realising it.
  • Social media has ‘blurred’ the boundaries between news and other content
    • This means many people cannot discern what ‘counts’ as news and where it originally comes from.
  • People often engage with news in passive and shallow ways
    • As people consume more news online they tend to engage with it in a more superficial way, in part driven by the way social media and smartphones work.
  • People recognise they should think critically when navigating news online
    • People are aware of common concerns related to online news but can’t articulate what these mean in practice.
    • Some people try to counteract these concerns by relying on shortcuts and intuition to assess the reliability of news stories – but these mechanisms are limited in their effectiveness.
  • These challenges sit within a broader context of distrust in media and other institutions
    • Many people talk about a wider lack of trust in public figures and other institutions, and there are mixed views about how this relates to distrust in media.

Although focused on adults, the research provides some useful thoughts for educators. Learners are growing up in a world where news in increasingly consumed online; it is crucial that educational settings help prepare them to critically analyse and reflect on online content.

A range of educational resources to support educational settings to do this can be found under 'Fake news: Reliability and Critical Thinking' on Kelsi.