Older Brits most ‘concerned’ with misinformation
Four-fifths (81%) of UK adults over the age of 55+ say they are “concerned” with the problem of misinformation, the most among any age bracket.
That is according to a May poll conducted by YouGov and commissioned by news trustworthiness ratings company NewsGuard, which found similar “concern” among 18-25-year-olds (73%).
An earlier poll conducted by YouGov in March, however, found that 72% of Brits were worried about the spread of misinformation overall, with concern dropping among 18-24-year-olds (52%).
The findings suggest that older Brits are generally more worried about seeing misinformation online, perhaps in part because of a relative lack of digital media literacy compared to younger generations.
A separate YouGov and NewsGuard poll of only UK adults aged 65+ found the cohort was most concerned about seeing misinformation related to health and medicine (36%), followed by UK politics and society (28%) and climate change (12%).
Research on whether adults aged 65+ are more likely to be susceptible to misinformation online is mixed. Whereas a 2022 report by Ofcom found that research participants over the age of 65 were more likely to lack the skills necessary to comfortable assess the credibility of online information, another study by the Alan Turing Institute found that older people are “slightly better” at assessing health-related statements in the media.
The poll, which was based on answers from a representative sample of 1,005 people, found that two-thirds (66%) of respondents have never suspected that they have shared false or misleading information online.
Among the other 37% respondents, the leading reason for their suspected sharing of false information was that it was published by a source or author they trusted (11%).
“Anecdotally, older people do fall victim to misinformation,” said Conor Chipp, digital inclusion advisor at Digital Communities Wales. “It comes down to lack of confidence or fear — they’ve spent most of their lives with trusted news sources, and they’re being presented with news articles that could’ve come from anywhere. It can be scary when these polarising things written as fact pop up, without the digital skills to verify them.”
Chipp did, however, add that some “older people can be hyper cautious because of their [lower] confidence level, so they are less likely to go for clickbait or phishing scams.”
The popularity of newer media, and older adults relative concern over seeing misinformation on it, has caused some concern for advertisers, which have failed to target older audiences in recent years.
A recent study by independent media agency The Kite Factory found that adults aged 65+ were not engaged with advertising nearly as much as younger generations, despite the fact that older cohorts are much wealthier.
According to Barb data analysed by Ofcom, the proportion of people aged 16-24 watching live or recorded broadcast TV fell from 82% in 2016 to just 59% in 2021. Meanwhile, the proportion of over 75s watching TV stayed static at 97%, implying a “drastic” shift in media consumption only among younger cohorts that advertisers have been chasing, rather than the more stable older population.
The study also attributed such decline in advertising engagement among older individuals to a lack of representation of older people in ad campaigns, and a decline in the use of humour in ads, which the cohort finds appealing.
But it’s not just such preferences, but also declining trust, that appears to be a factor.
“The advertising pre-millennium was more to the point, with pleasurable music or jingles,” said one respondent to a 2023 YouGov survey. “The modern advertising, I find difficult to even make out what is being advertised.”
Such concern is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. As The Media Leader editor wrote in April, a healthy scepticism of the media is paradoxically important for journalism. “Trust is earned: the less we trust each other by default, the better journalism we should end up with.”