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Press release

BIT and Ofcom trial methods to boost engagement with content controls on social media sites

21st May 2024

Social media users are more likely to restrict sensitive content when this option is pre-selected for them, according to research from BIT for the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom.

Almost 3 in 10 adults have been exposed to potentially harmful content on social media. Content controls are an underused safety feature on social media sites. Research shows that just 26% of people have used content controls

BIT and Ofcom’s Behavioural Insight specialists ran two online trials to test different ways of encouraging people to use content controls. The technical report for one trial fed into Ofcom’s Best Practice Design Principles for Media Literacy. Today Ofcom are publishing the technical report for the second trial as well as a discussion paper synthesising the findings from both trials

The team at BIT used a purpose-built, mock social media platform called WeConnect. Across both trials users could choose to see ‘all content’ or ‘reduced sensitive content’. In the latter option they would see fewer posts that included violence, hate speech or misinformation on their feed.

The trials explored user responses to different ways of presenting information including pre-selected content controls and making information about sensitive content examples more noticeable. They also tested responses to being prompted to check their settings at different times – at the beginning of a browsing session or after exposure to sensitive content, and using different messages.

The trials found that when neither option was preselected, 24% chose to reduce sensitive content on their feed when signing up to a platform. When all content was pre-selected, just 15% of users actively chose to limit sensitive content at sign up. But when ‘reduce sensitive content’ was pre-selected, 42% of users chose to keep that as the default.

Dr Sujatha Krishnan-Barman, Senior Advisor at BIT said: “How users set their content controls seem to be heavily influenced by the way in which the choice is presented. Defaults, salience of information, and timely prompts all shaped the choices that users make. Across both trials however, the majority of users stuck with their initial choice – this suggests the choices are ‘sticky’ and not easily prone to change.”

If you’d like to speak to someone in the consumer markets team at BIT you can get in touch with an advisor here

About the Behavioural Insights Team

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) is one of the world’s leading behavioural science consultancies, working around the world to improve people’s lives.

BIT works in partnership with governments, local authorities, businesses and NGOs in over 30 countries, often using simple changes to tackle major policy problems and deliver improved public services and social outcomes.

BIT was established by the UK government in 2010. In 2014 it became an independent social purpose company, part owned by the Cabinet Office and innovation agency Nesta, and since 2021 has been entirely owned by Nesta.

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