Briefing to Members of Parliament:
Strengthen the Online Safety Bill to Tackle Misinformation
16 Jan 2023
Dear Member of Parliament,
I hope you are well.
I am contacting you given your recent activity in looking to improve the effectiveness of the Online Safety Bill to protect young people from harmful content online.
The Online Safety Bill presents a unique opportunity to tackle harmful content online and protect vulnerable people including children. Polis Analysis, a volunteer-run political media organisation campaigning to fight fake news, submitted evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny committee in Parliament on the Online Safety Bill. We called for the scope of the Online Safety Bill to be broadened and include online misinformation as a form of social harm that needs to be legislated on. While some of our evidence submission was reflected in the committee’s amendments, we believe the Online Safety Bill in its current form fails to go far enough to fight back against fake news online.
The Fake News Threat
Online misinformation poses genuine harm and must be tackled, particularly due to its pernicious effects on young people. Young people are disproportionately exposed to online misinformation given this age group spends more time online. Ofcom recently released a report finding that Facebook and Instagram are rated the most important news sources among 16 to 24-year-olds. This age group struggle to protect themselves from fake news online as found by a UNICEF report. Research finds just 2% of children have the skills needed to identify misinformation and two thirds of teachers believe fake news is harming the wellbeing of children.
The impact of fake news online is dangerous. Rogue state actors such as Russia are using advances in artificial intelligence to produce ‘deep fake’ videos to sow discord in democratic societies and influence the war in Ukraine. Russian bots are exploiting algorithms to threaten British democracy and freedom, which your colleague the Security Minister Tom Tugendhat MP has recently warned against. Online misinformation is also a threat to public health. Ofcom found 58% of 18–24-year-olds came across false or misleading information about Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic. As a result, vaccine hesitancy levels rose from 5% for over 30s to 14% for younger age groups, putting young people at risk.
Research by Polis Analysis shows 74% of people want the Government to prioritise tackling fake news. 88.4% of respondents as part of our research said that they have either felt at risk of falling victim or have already fallen victim to online misinformation. Here are the results of how respondents ranked solutions to tackling fake news out of 10, with 10 indicating the strongest preference:
Expanding the scope of the Online Safety Bill to compel social media companies and online search engines to remove misinformation from their platforms: 7.9/10
Teaching about the dangers of online misinformation, how to spot it and how to report it in schools to increase the media literacy of school children: 8.2/10
Harsher action taken against social media platforms for hosting misinformation including fines: 6.2/10
Custodial sentences for those responsible for creating and distributing misinformation on social media platforms: 4.5/10
Call for the Online Safety Bill to be amended: Support taking action to tackle online misinformation by calling for the Online Safety Bill to be amended by broadening its scope to include online misinformation as a form of social harm.
Raise awareness of the fake news threat in Parliament: Please raise awareness of the threat posed by fake news to democracy, public health and young people by citing the research and findings mentioned above in debates in Parliament on the Online Safety Bill and at DCMS Oral Questions.
Raise awareness of the fake news threat in the media: Please raise awareness of the threat of fake news on social media and in national media. Polis Analysis has been campaigning in the media and would be delighted to work with you.
Meet with Polis Analysis: Consider meeting with Polis Analysis to discuss the threat online misinformation poses to young people, as well as the solutions that exist beyond the Online Safety Bill to tackle fake news. We would be thrilled if you would be interested in joining our campaign to fight fake news.
The Online Safety Bill is a first step in protecting young people from harmful content online. To truly tackle the threat of fake news online, legislative solutions alone are insufficient. Bottom-up solutions that focus on improving the media literacy and critical thinking skills of young people, including through changes to the national education curriculum, are also important.
For more information, please see attached a short briefing on the threat of online misinformation as well as the solutions that exist to mitigate the threat. You can read here a recent article published in Politics.co.uk by our Founder Thomas Barton on the need to fight fake news.
I hope you will support Polis Analysis in taking the fight to fake news to protect young people online. I look forward to hearing from you.
The Polis Analysis Team