Help for vulnerable people to spot disinformation, boost online safety

Elderly, disabled and other vulnerable people will get better support to stay safe online and avoid being misled by disinformation thanks to a funding boost from the government to mark UNESCO Global Media and Information Literacy Week.

More than £1 million has been granted to 17 UK organisations to pilot new ways of boosting media literacy skills for people at risk of experiencing online abuse and being deceived into believing false information, such as vaccine disinformation, deepfake videos or propaganda created by hostile states.

Research shows some people struggle to engage and benefit from the range of media literacy education on offer, due to limited experience or overconfidence in using the internet, as well as a lack of awareness of how to access resources and their unavailability outside of schools and colleges.

The Media Literacy Taskforce Fund is one of two funding schemes created to target ‘hard-to-reach’ and vulnerable groups by investing in community-led projects to ensure everyone has the opportunity to improve their media literacy skills and protect themselves from online disinformation.

Social enterprise Freshrb will work with young people to develop their own podcasts exploring online dis- and misinformation to be aired on local radio. Another project run by charity Internet Matters will provide media literacy training for dozens of care workers and leavers in the Greater Manchester area.

Elderly people from diverse backgrounds in Leeds will have access to digital media skills training online and in community centres as part of the Leeds Older People’s Forum. Parent Zone is working with eight local councils including Calderdale, Luton and Middlesborough to deliver media literacy resources tailored to parents and carers of teenagers.

A separate scheme, the Media Literacy Programme Fund, will deliver training courses, online learning, tech solutions and mentoring schemes to vulnerable internet users.

Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan"With the rise of online disinformation, teaching people to identify fact from fiction has never been more important to public safety," noted Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan. "As well as bringing forward new laws to tackle the root causes of these problems, we are funding organisations to give people the skills to stay safe online so everyone can benefit from all the internet has to offer."

Winning projects in the Media Literacy Programme Fund to receive grants today include:

  • NewsGuard, which will work with ageing-focused charities to, deliver workshops to older adults to support them in spotting mis- and disinformation online;
  • The Economist Educational Foundation will work with disadvantaged schools and boost teachers’ skills through news literacy training and support students to engage with the news and think critically about what they’re consuming online;
  • Online Safety charity Glitch will deliver workshops and training to vulnerable and marginalised women to support their media literacy skills including tackling online abuse.

All the schemes are part of the government’s plans to deliver the Online Media Literacy Strategy, a national action plan to empower people to stay safe online by giving them the skills they need to think critically about what they see and read on the internet.

Launched in July 2021, the three-year strategy supports media literacy organisations to deliver education and initiatives in a more wide-reaching and effective way. The year two plan, published in April, is backed by more than £2 million in targeted funding, including today’s announcement. This is in addition to the £250,000 grant funding delivered to five organisations working with schools to adapt media literacy resources for teachers working with disabled students in our year one action plan.

"This new funding will allow us to engage with parents and families who might otherwise be left behind when it comes to media literacy and digital opportunities," explained Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone. "Working closely with local authorities and community groups will enable us to respond to local needs and priorities whilst ensuring high quality for all."

"Our new programme is all about improving media literacy support for care leavers," said Simone Vibert, from Internet Matters. "We are really excited to be working with Greater Manchester Combined Authority to trial new, innovative methods of delivering this support to care leavers across the region, focusing on co-production with care leavers themselves and the professionals who work with them."

"This grant will enable us to reach significantly more teachers of disadvantaged children and launch new initiatives to support them to deepen their engagement with our programme, Topical Talk," said Emily Evans, Founder and Chief Executive of The Economist Educational Foundation. "We are teaching children to question the information they receive online, preparing them for future success as they navigate the digital world."

The announcement coincides with the UNESCO Global Media and Information Literacy Week, a global initiative celebrating the progress countries have made toward making media literacy education more accessible to its citizens by implementing national media and information literacy policies.

The grant funding complements the measures in the Online Safety Bill, which aims to support a safer online environment by requiring tech firms to protect children from harmful content and tackle criminal activity on their platforms.

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