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Government ups cyber support for elderly, vulnerable web users

DCMS announces a funding boost to help the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable groups stay safe online and avoid being misled by disinformation

The government has awarded over £1m in grants to 17 UK organisations piloting new techniques to boost digital and media literacy among people deemed more at risk of experiencing online abuse or being tricked into believing falsehoods such as vaccine disinformation, deepfake videos, or hostile propaganda.

The awards are part of the government’s online media literacy strategy and are being made to mark Unesco’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week.

“With the rise of online disinformation, teaching people to identify fact from fiction has never been more important to public safety,” said digital secretary Michelle Donelan.

“As well as bringing forward new laws to tackle the root causes of these problems, we are funding organisations to give people the skills to stay safe online, so everyone can benefit from all the internet has to offer.” 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said research had shown many people struggle to engage and benefit from the range of digital media literacy education that is available for reasons such as limited experience or lack of confidence in going online, lack of awareness of how to access such education, and lack of availability of same.

It created the Media Literacy Taskforce Fund earlier this year as one of two funding schemes pitched at targeting hard-to-reach or vulnerable groups through community-led projects. The other scheme, the Media Literacy Programme Fund, is set to deliver training courses, online learning, tech solutions and mentoring schemes to vulnerable web users.

Grant recipients from the first fund include: Fresherb, a social enterprise working with young people to develop podcasts – aired on local radio stations – that explore issues around online dis- and misinformation; Internet Matters, a Manchester-based charity providing media literacy training for care workers and school leavers; the Leeds Older People’s Forum, targeting elderly people online and in community centres in the city; and Parent Zone, which is working with councils across the country to deliver resources to the parents and guardians of teenage children.

Projects awarded money from the second fund include: NewsGuard, which delivers digital literacy workshops to older people working through relevant charities; the Economist Educational Foundation, which helps teachers in disadvantaged areas to support children in engaging critically with the news; and Glitch, a platform that provides workshops and training to vulnerable and marginalised women, with a particular focus on online abuse.

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