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Peers demand curbs on harmful algorithms introduced to online safety Bill | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

Peers have inflicted a defeat on the Government, demanding ministers ensure the algorithms governing social media sites do not cause harm.

The House of Lords voted in favour of introducing a series of changes to the Online Safety Bill intended to prevent platforms from being designed to push harmful content.

The landmark Bill would introduce sweeping reforms, which already include moves to protect children from harmful content.

Crossbench peer Baroness Kidron led calls for the amendments (Joshua Bratt/PA)

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

Crossbench peer Baroness Kidron, who led calls for the amendments, claimed that social media companies needed to be prevented from pushing children towards harmful content through algorithms or other mechanisms designed into their platforms.

She gave the example of influencer Andrew Tate, claiming teenage boys had been led to his videos because of a “content-neutral friend recommendation” mechanism.

Tate is currently under house arrest in Romania alongside his brother Tristan and two Romanian women.

The divisive social media personality has been charged with rape, human trafficking and forming a crime gang to sexually exploit women, but he denies all allegations against him.

In the House of Lords, Lady Kidron said teenage boys had been encouraged to view his 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”.

The baroness, a filmmaker and children’s online rights campaigner, added: “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 added: “I cannot accept the Government’s argument that all harm comes from content.

“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?”

Conservative peer Baroness Harding of Winscombe gave her backing to Lady Kidron’s proposals.

Lady Harding, who led the NHS Test and Trace programme during the pandemic, told the House of Lords how she had used “brilliant” technology to keep track of her teenage daughter during a school trip to the USA.

But she added: “Each time I do, a shiver runs down the back of my spine thinking how easy it would be for a predator to do the same thing, without recognising that non-content harm is a real and present danger.”

Lady Harding went on: “We have all got ourselves tangled up in the structure of it and if it is not on the face of the Bill that non-content harms are indeed real harms, the risk of it not being clear in the future is very, very great indeed.”

Lib Dem peer Baroness Benjamin also backed the changes to the Bill.

The former television presenter and Barnardo’s vice president said: “These amendments send a loud, long message to the industry that they are responsible for the design of their products.

“Surely the Government should be on the side of children who have suffered far too long being exposed to harmful content, not on the side of the multinational tech companies.”

Culture minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay had urged peers to vote down the amendments, claiming 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.”

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