Ofcom: 70 per cent Want Greater Regulation of Social Media

The joint study by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office, One Nation, released today shows an increase in users seeing hateful content online and a majority that would like tougher regulation of social media sites.

The proportion of adults concerned about using the web leapt from 59 per cent to 78 per cent in a year, with nearly two thirds of adults (61 per cent) reporting a potentially harmful experience online in the last 12 months, with one in seven saying they ‘often’ see harmful content.

Eighty eight per cent of social media users have Facebook accounts and the research shows Facebook is the platform where users are most likely to report experiencing harm, with the most common problems including fake news, scams, violent content and misleading advertising.

This follows news last week, that Facebook closed 2.2 billion fake accounts in the first three months of this year.

Researchers found that the proportion of adults backing tighter rules for social media sites is up from 52 per cent to 70 per cent in a year. This follows an increase in media attention on the dangers of social media, following the suicide of the teenager Molly Russell, after her parents blamed her death on material she saw on Instagram.

The report also shows that the average adult now spends three hours and 15 minutes a day on the internet, which is the equivalent to 50 days a year.

Much of this time is spent on sites and applications owned by Google and Facebook, which together account for a third of all British internet usage. In return, the two organisations receive 61 per cent of all British online advertising revenue.

Ofcom’s director for strategy and research, Yih-Choung Teh said: “As most of us spend more time than ever online, we’re increasingly worried about harmful content – and also more likely to come across it.

“For most people, those risks are still outweighed by the huge benefits of the internet. And while most internet users favour tighter rules in some areas, particularly social media, people also recognise the importance of protecting free speech – which is one of the internet’s great strengths.”

Ofcom also released Adults Media Lives research which showed that “despite almost all internet users using search engines to look for information online, only six in ten understand that not all the websites returned will be accurate and unbiased.”  

Additionally, social media users are shielding themselves from differing opinions to their own. Compared to 2017, social media users are less likely to say they see views they disagree with; a quarter say they ‘rarely’ see views on social media they disagree with (compared with 18 per cent in 2017).