Ofcom research review highlights specific media literacy skills that have an impact

The way people access news and information has changed significantly in recent years. We know people may not always critically engage with the accuracy and partiality of online news or feel confident in their understanding of what news and information is reliable.

For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a quarter (24%) of people in the UK, when asked if they had seen false or misleading information in the last week, said they could not be sure. This increased to 30% of people in the lowest socio-economic group.

Supporting people to critically engage with news and information online is therefore increasingly important. And our recent work shows how Ofcom can help.

What works

We are building our evidence and understanding of what works to improve media literacy. As a recent article for this newsletter by my colleague Alberto Fernandes highlighted, one way that we will develop this understanding is by commissioning Rapid Evidence Assessments.

Earlier this year, we published a report by researchers at the London School of Economics following their Rapid Evidence Assessment of media literacy and online misinformation. Key findings include:

  1. Three specific types of media literacy skills consistently have positive effects on a person’s ability to critically engage with misinformation. These skills are:
    • Critical thinking, including questioning where information comes from and using it to construct evidence-based arguments.
    • Evaluation strategies, including a reflective approach to the person’s own status as an audience member.
    • Knowledge of how the news and media industries operate.
  2. Initiatives and interventions that stimulate “system 2 thinking” are more effective than those which stimulate “system 1 thinking”. System 2 thinking is a slow, critical, rational form of thinking, in contrast to system 1 thinking which is automatic, rapid, and intuitive. Initiatives and interventions that stimulate system 2 thinking require greater cognitive engagement from participants and have more effects, which are sometimes longer lasting, on a person’s ability to critically engage with misinformation.

  3. Games, or gamification of initiatives and interventions, can stimulate system 2 thinking and prompt more critical engagement with misinformation, by exposing people to different types of misinformation and guiding them through the skills required to make informed judgments about information.

You can find the full report with all findings, recommendations and limitations on our website here.

Ofcom’s wider work

We continue to build our understanding of what works, including commissioning more Rapid Evidence Assessments. We also want practitioners and platforms to embed evidence and evaluation into their media literacy initiatives and interventions, and to share lessons learned with each other.

To help practitioners and platforms do this, we will develop an interactive digital toolkit that will bring together guidance on evaluation and evidence on what works in an accessible way. Our guidance on evaluation will emphasise the importance of developing a theory of change to break down initiatives and interventions into component parts, enabling each part to be evaluated separately and enabling identification of evidence that can improve that specific component.

We’re keen to engage with others, so please join our Making Sense of Media Network here and look out for our publication on our wider approach to online media literacy.


Alana Finn, Strategy & Policy Analyst, Ofcom