Online Safety Bill: Lords Demand Changes To Social Media Algorithms

House of Lords fails to object to encryption demands in Online Safety Bill, but rather harmful algorithms for social media

The House of Lords has inflicted a defeat on the government by insisting on changes to the controversial Online Safety Bill.

Unfortunately for messaging providers extremely concerned at the Bill’s “spy” clause for encryption, it seems that peers did not object to that controversial requirement.

Instead the peers demanded that government ministers ensure the algorithms governing social media sites do not cause harm, the Press Association reported.

Social algorithms

Indeed, the House of Lords voted in favour of introducing a series of changes to the Online Safety Bill intended to prevent social media platforms from being pushing harmful content.

Peers voted 240 to 168 – a majority of 72, to introduce the amendments.

The peers alleged that the Bill fails to address that social media companies need to be prevented from pushing children towards harmful content via algorithms or other mechanisms designed into their platforms.

Crossbench peer Baroness Kidron, who led calls for the amendments, pointed to the example of influencer Andrew Tate, when she claimed teenage boys had been led to his videos because of a “content-neutral friend recommendation” mechanism.

Lady Kidron alleged in the House of Lords that teenage boys had been encouraged to view Andrew Tate’s content “simply on the basis that other 13-year-old boys are like each other and one of them has already been on that site”.

“To push hundreds of thousands of children towards Andrew Tate for no other reason than you benefit commercially from the network effect is a travesty for children and it undermines parents,” Lady Kidron was quoted as saying by the Press Association.

“I cannot accept the Government’s argument that all harm comes from content,” Lady Kidron reportedly said. “I would say this: That even if we are wrong today – which we are most definitely not – in a world of AI, immersive tech and augmented reality, is it not dangerous and indeed foolish to exclude harm that might come from another source other than content?”

Encryption concerns

It seems that the House of Lords failed to address one of the most controversial aspects of the Online Safety Bill – at least for many big name tech firms.

Last month Apple called for the Online Safety Bill to be amended in order to protect encryption, after it included what many refer to as a spy clause.

That intervention came after Meta’s WhatsApp and six other providers of end-to-end encrypted messaging services urged the UK government in April to “urgently rethink” the Online Safety Bill.

They said it presented an “unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety and security” of UK citizens and those they communicate with around the world.

WhatsApp and fellow messaging firm Signal have also said they would rather pull out of the UK than comply with the bill’s requirements.

The firms cited a United Nations warning that the bill and its effective backdoor requirements constitute a “paradigm shift that raises a host of serious problems with potentially dire consequences”.

The Online Safety Bill, currently going through Parliament, contains powers that could enable communications regulator Ofcom to order platforms to use accredited technology to scan the contents of messages.

The government said these powers would only be used as “a last resort, and only when stringent privacy safeguards have been met.”