More than half of children have encountered more misleading content online in the past year, a survey suggests.
Some 48% said they see misleading content online every day, with more than one in 10 seeing it more than six times a day, according to a poll coinciding with Safer Internet Day.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of eight to 17-year-olds who took part said they felt being online had helped them through the pandemic and lockdowns.
But 51% said they had seen more misleading information online – which can include fake news and altered images – than before 2020.
The findings come as the majority of young people are learning remotely due to the latest wave of school closures during the national lockdown.
School leaders’ union NAHT has urged parents to “stay alert” to online risks as more children are spending time on their devices for schoolwork.
The survey, of more than 2,000 young people questioned by the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC) in December, suggests that more than two in five (43%) have noticed their friends and peers sharing misleading content online.
More than one in three (35%) say they have seen influencers, bloggers, celebrities or people in the public eye sharing misleading content online.
One in four young people say they have shared misleading content themselves, with some saying it was “just for fun”.
Will Gardner, director of the UKSIC, said: “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.”
Mr Gardner added: “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.”
On Safer Internet Day, when many children are learning at home, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, has urged parents and teachers to be mindful of the risks of the internet.
He said: “Totally unsupervised use of smartphones and other internet-enabled devices, especially for younger users, is not recommended. Where internet safety is concerned, children should not be ‘left to their own devices’.
“Schools are obviously taking great care over what content is suitable for use in remote learning and are being thoughtful about how they interact with children online. It is important that parents and carers stay alert too.
“Just because children are spending more time on their devices for schoolwork, doesn’t mean screen time should become unlimited or devices should be allowed to be used entirely unsupervised.”
Children and families minister Vicky Ford said: “We are providing 1.3 million devices for children who need them the most because we know that the internet is an important vehicle for education during the pandemic, with extensive advice for schools on how to prioritise online safety.
“This year’s Safer Internet Day is more important than ever. We want children to have access to the tools they need to navigate modern life, including how to identify disinformation and trusted sources, stay safe online, and make the right decisions when engaging with media content.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The internet can be a fantastic place for learning, entertainment and connecting with people. But it is also used by dangerous people to spread misleading content or exploit children and young people.
“It’s fantastic to see so many organisations from across the UK come together on Safer Internet Day to raise awareness of these dangers and promote a safer use of digital technology.”