British web surfers say they now trust online news sources more than television bulletins and newspapers, ignoring the adage to never believe what you read on the internet.

A survey of media literacy by Ofcom, the media regulator, also found that almost half of the UK population had created a profile on a social networking site, but added that adults were becoming more savvy about who they befriended online.

According to 1,824 in-depth interviews with people over the age of 16 conducted last year, Britain has become an even more tech-happy nation since Ofcom’s last audit in 2007, with usage of digital television, internet and mobile phones all increasing.

With seven in 10 people now using the internet, booking holidays online has become just as popular as visiting a travel agent in person, while about half of all internet users have used price comparison websites to save money or research an illness using the web.

Even so, many people remain sceptical about the reliability of the information they find online. More than half of those surveyed rated TV and radio content as “reliable and accurate”, compared with less than a third lending the same credence to the internet for general use.

But for the first time, the web overtook TV as the more trusted source of news, Ofcom found. Although both were outstripped by radio at 66 per cent, 58 per cent of people said they trusted online news and 54 per cent believed TV. People aged 25 to 34 were by far the most confident that TV news was accurate, with women more convinced than men.

Media trust

The press was deemed the least trustworthy medium, with more adults saying they thought newspapers were unreliable than said they believed in them.

That increase in trust for online sources may stem from an increase in the use of social networks, where people frequently share news and links, lending a personal endorsement to the story or website, Ofcom found.

It also said the proportion of internet users with a social networking profile had doubled since 2007, with the biggest increases among women, 25 to 34-year-olds, and the lowest socio-economic grouping, DE. Facebook is by far the most popular, with MySpace and Bebo both seeing falls in usage, and Twitter used by just one in 10.

Two in five people visit a social network every day, with half of all internet users saying the web has increased the frequency of their contact with friends and family.

More than three-quarters of those who have an online identity allow only friends or family to see it, Ofcom found, marking a large increase in the number of people restricting who can see their personal information since 2007. Only 17 per cent said they had profiles that can now be seen by “anyone”, compared with 44 per cent in 2007.

Ofcom’s most recent research was conducted last year before Facebook introduced new privacy settings that default to sharing some personal information with “everyone”.

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