About one in five children aged 12 to 15 believe that information found in search engines like Google or Bing must be true.
In fact, kids are more likely in 2015 vs. 2014 to believe various kinds of online information are always true, according to a study just out from Ofcom, the UK regulator of media and communications industries, which has been tracking kids’ and parents’ media habits since 2005.
Some other key findings from the study, which relied on in-home interviews with 1379 parents and children aged 5-15:
- In 2015, kids aged 8-11 and 12-15 are more likely than those studied in 2014 to believe that all information on news sites or apps is true (23% vs. 12% for 8-11 year olds, and 14% vs. 8% for 12-15 year olds).
- The BBC remains the preferred source for truthful information about the world among 12-15 year olds, but a growing number said they would turn to YouTube for truthful information (8% vs. 3% in 2014).
- In addition to the one in five (19%) 12-15 year olds who believe search engine results must be true, 22% of them don’t consider the veracity of information but just visit the sites they “like the look of.”
- Despite being distinguished with an orange box containing the word “ad,” only 16% of 8-11 year olds and 31% of 12-15 year olds could correctly identify sponsored ads in search results.
- 45% of 12-15 year olds were aware of personalized advertising, but 18% thought everyone would see the same ads and 38% were unsure.
Looking at these results it seems obvious that many children nowadays are unprepared to withstand the onslaught of online hoaxes, scams and social engineering tricks employed by predators, cybercriminals and fraudulent advertisers.
Certainly, children need help to “develop the know-how they need to navigate the online world,” notes Ofcom’s director of research, James Thickett.
Yet many adults also need help to be better at discerning the truthfulness of information online and spotting scams and other threats.
Adults with bad security attitudes
The attitudes of adults about the veracity of search engine results are pretty bad too, according to another study of media literacy released this year by Ofcom.
Ofcom’s survey found that just 60% of adults say that “some websites will be accurate or unbiased and some won’t be.”
Another 23% of adults say information returned in search engine results will be true and unbiased, and 14% say they “don’t really think about” the accuracy of information, but just visit sites they “like the look of.”
Adults are just as vulnerable to dirty online tricks, as we know from other studies that show how bad people are at spotting phishing scams (up to 45% of people fall for the hardest-to-spot phishing attempts).
Many people just can’t seem to get security right, no matter how hard we try to raise awareness of cyberthreats: a lot of us are woefully bad at basics like creating strong passwords, and too many people ignore security warnings about dangerous websites and neglect privacy settings on our devices and social media accounts.
Getting better at cybersecurity
This lack of security conscientiousness should also be concerning for organizations under constant threat from cyberattackers looking to exploit users to gain access to systems and data.
But cybersecurity is a shared responsibility – when just some of us are negligent, it gives cybercrooks the edge.
If you want to do your part, you can start by encouraging your friends, family and co-workers to start with the security basics and build up from there.