Safer Internet Day: 1 in 2 children encounter misleading content daily


To mark this year’s Safer Internet Day, new research released today (9th February) shows young people are experiencing misleading content online on a daily basis. 

According to research from the coordinators the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC), 77% of young people (aged 8 – 17) surveyed feel that being online has been a more important part of their life in 2020 than ever before. The internet has become a fundamental part of young people’s education, with 65% of young people having enjoyed online lessons during national lockdowns.

Yet while 73% of young people surveyed feel that being online has helped them through the difficult pandemic and lockdowns, the research also found that over half (51%) of young people surveyed are encountering more misleading content online now than in the previous year. Up to 48% of young people surveyed said they encountered misleading content at least once a day or more frequently, with 24% of young people encountering it 2-5 times a day.

The research highlighted how likely young people are to fall for misleading online interactions, 63% of them saying they would be likely to fall for things like gaming scams, sneaky/hidden sponsored ads, filtered/edited imagery on social media and stories from unofficial sources. 53% of young people assume that images that they come across on social media are likely to have been filtered or edited to some extent.

The research showed that 62% of young people have had friend requests from people they don’t know. This highlights the importance in the decisions young people take towards their own safety, as well as the need for them to be able to manage the risks they are presented with online. 

  • 77% of young people say being online is a more important part of their life than ever before, with 65% enjoying online lessons during lockdown amidst school closures
  • 48% of young people are seeing misleading content every day, with more than one in 10 seeing it more than six times a day – often leaving them feeling annoyed, upset, sad, angry, attacked or scared
  • 43% of young people have noticed their friends and peers sharing misleading content (such as fake news) online 
  • 62% of young people have had friend requests from people they don’t know
  • 59% of young people are aware they have a responsibility to report potentially damaging, harmful or misleading content online, but overall are more likely to block misleading content (21%) than report it (16%)

Reaction, response and reporting content 

Insight shows that 25% of young people admit to sharing online content from an unverified or untrustworthy source, with 43% seeing people their own age and friends sharing something misleading. When asked why, 16% of young people surveyed either did it ‘just for fun’ e.g. as a harmless joke or without being aware of how misleading or ‘fake’ the content was. 35% also have seen influencers, bloggers, celebrities etc share misleading content (such as fake news) online. 

58% of young people surveyed understand that sharing misleading content online could be harmful, whilst also recognising that it could cause further damage such as upset (55%), hurt (55%) or embarrassment (35%). Whilst many young people are likely to ignore misleading content or not do anything in response (48%), many others are likely to talk about it with a parent or carer (28%). 17% say that when they see their friends sharing such content, they have talked to them about it. 

The majority of young people understand that they have a responsibility to be mindful of their actions when they are online. There can be a negative emotional impact that comes with encountering misleading content online, with 91% of young people feeling either annoyed, upset, sad, angry, attacked or scared at encountering various misleading interactions.

59% of young people are aware they have a responsibility to report potentially damaging, harmful or misleading content online, but are more likely to block misleading content (21%) than report it (16%). 

Together for a better internet 

While the majority of young people feel they have a responsibility to report misleading content that could be harmful online, 53% of young people surveyed also believe they have a responsibility to educate family and friends and to ‘call them out’ as and when they share it. 61% of these young people also want to learn more about how to spot misleading content online, with young people calling on social media and other online platforms (78%) and the government (72%) to do more to get involved in tackling misleading content online.  

Safer Internet Day unites millions of young people, schools and organisations across the UK, to spark conversations around online safety and what to trust online. Over 1,000 organisations are taking part, joining young people in conversation, as well as hosting events. Across the day, the UK Safer Internet Centre will be releasing toolkits, resources and live content. 

Says Will Gardner OBE, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, says: 

“This is the most important Safer internet Day ever. We are in lockdown and being online continues to be a lifeline for most children during the pandemic, in terms of their education and social lives, and also as a form of support. Our research released today sheds a light on this, as well as children and young people’s experience of unreliable content.

“It shows they are making decisions all the time on the trustworthiness of content they see or are sent, or contact they receive, as well as showing the impact this has on them. We need to listen to young people, and hear the strategies they are already using, and we need to work to support them. Managing unreliable content and contact is fundamental to being safe online, as well as for looking after others online. 

“Safer Internet Day provides the perfect opportunity to generate conversations that need to take place to support children in their online lives. Through all the activities taking place today, across the UK, we can all work to help empower young people, and those that support them, to be better able to harness and use the positive power of the internet for good.”

To support young people this Safer Internet Day and beyond, the UKSIC centre hosts a library of free educational resources at to provide parents, schools and other members of the children’s workforce with the tools they need to safely navigate the internet.  To keep updated and to get involved follow @UK_SICand use the hashtags #SaferInternetDay and #AnInternetWeTrust. 

Chris Price

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