NEWS13 July 2023

Peers want curbs on social media algorithms

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UK – The House of Lords has voted in favour of changes to the Online Safety Bill that would target how the design of social media platforms can lead people to harmful content.

Someone scrolling through a blue mobile phone in the dark

The Online Safety Bill, which is going through the process of becoming law, seeks to regulate social media companies and other providers of ‘user-to-user services’ in order to protect users from content that is harmful or illegal.

Peers voted to introduce amendments to the bill focusing on preventing platforms from being designed in such a way that leads people towards harmful content.

Peers voted 240 to 168, majority 72, to introduce the changes.

Baroness Kidron, who backed amendments to the bill, claimed the government’s focus on harmful content was “old-fashioned” and that the bill in its current form did not focus on “the harm that emerges from how the regulated company designs its service”. 

Kidron cited the examples of algorithms introducing teenage boys to influencer Andrew Tate, as well as “many hundreds of small reward loops that make up a doomscroll or make a game addictive”.

Tate is a self-proclaimed misogynist who has been banned from various social media platforms. 

Baroness Kidron said during the House of Lords debate: “The impact of a content-neutral friend recommendation has rocked our schools as female teachers and girls struggle with the attitudes and actions of young boys, and has torn through families, who no longer recognise their sons and brothers.”

Kidron added: “I cannot accept the Government’s argument that all harm comes from content.

“Even if we are wrong today ... in a world of AI, immersive tech and augmented reality, is it not dangerous and, indeed, foolish, to exclude harm that might come from a source other than content?”

During the Lords debate, culture minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay claimed the changes could “weaken” the bill.

The minister added: “The bill’s online safety objectives include that regulated services should be designed and operated so as to protect people in the United Kingdom who are users of the service from harm, including with regard to algorithms used by the service, functionalities of the service, and other features relating to the operation of the service.”