Ofcom has published a call for input, inviting members of the industry to “help [them] expand [their] understanding of what good media literacy ‘by design’ should look like for social media, search, video-sharing and gaming services”. This follows a year of consultation with leading online services such as Meta, Google and TikTok. Ofcom will use the input provided by stakeholders to shape its media literacy statement (which is a requirement of the new Online Safety Act).
Ofcom defines media literacy as “the ability to use, understand and create media and communications in a variety of contexts” with the aim to “improve the online skills, knowledge and understanding of UK adults and children”. By enhancing media literacy, Ofcom hopes to encourage internet users to “engage with online services critically, safely and effectively, and thereby maximise the benefits and minimise the risks associated with being online”.
Ofcom’s focus will inevitably fall on the role of online services in supporting users’ media literacy in line with its guiding principles on this topic:
Priority, transparency and accountability
Ofcom expects online services to design their media to encourage critical and informed use of their product by consumers. It asks service providers to regularly publish the impact that media literacy interventions have had on users, while encouraging transparency about how their stakeholders and other experts inform their media literacy priorities.
User centric design and timely interventions
Ofcom states that service providers should put user needs at the centre of every stage of the design process to create highly usable and inclusive products which serve the broadest range of needs. They should therefore create inclusive and intuitive products, whose design is based on research, evidence and engagement with users, communities and experts. They should also invite external and independent scrutiny to minimise potential bias, while ensuring that policies to promote media literacy are designed by incorporating findings from product evaluation against media literacy metrics.
Monitoring and evaluation
Social media services should assess the effectiveness of well-designed media literacy interventions, using measurements that can be broadly benchmarked against other comparable services or online experiences, following which they should: (i) monitor interventions for effectiveness and impact; (ii) iterate to maintain and improve how effective they are at supporting users; (iii) share the findings of their experimentation and observation on the effectiveness of media literacy interventions; and (iv) publish how they will measure and judge the effectiveness of their literacy strategy at the outset.
Responses to the call for input should be submitted by 18 December 2023. Further detail on Ofcom’s design principles and expectations are included in its press release: Best practice principles for on-platform interventions to promote media literacy (ofcom.org.uk)
These guidelines represent a significant step forward in improving media literacy across the UK. We look forward to seeing how the responses received from stakeholders inform Ofcom’s approach to media literacy in the coming year, particularly as the scope of Ofcom’s other work in relation to the implementation of the Online Safety Act becomes clearer.