A Joint Committee comprised of MPs and Lords have reviewed the Online Safety Bill and have now published their recommendations, including criticisms regarding the social media algorithms and their harmful effects.
After the Queen declared that the UK would ‘lead the way’ for online safety, much attention has fallen to the Online Safety Bill to be the catalyst for this change. There has been increasing research into the harm caused by social media on the mental health of its users and MPs are calling Big Tech to account for it.
Earlier this month, Facebook Inc-owned Instagram has announced that it will be paying closer attention to help regulate child safety online. Whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, provided documents to the Wall Street Journal intimating that Facebook Inc. is highly aware of the adverse effects caused by the app.
It has also revealed that Facebook Inc. has a program within Instagram that shields accounts that are in breach of its rules – for example, for inciting violence – from being blocked, and instead continues to promote the images to its users.
Facebook Inc. also has conducted its own research, which found that its app is ‘harmful’ to teenage girls, amongst others, but did nothing to address the research at the time, despite building pressure from external independent studies on the issue.
The report goes on to say that Facebook Inc. was made aware via an internal presentation, that they “make body issues worse for one in three teen girls” and that 40% of teens reported first feeling “unattractive” after starting to use Instagram.
The Online Safety Bill has a view to protect internet users from illegal content, hate speech and content involving or promoting child sexual abuse, violence and terrorism. The Joint Committee has also recommended that the bill should make self-harm images and sending sexual images without the permission of the recipient (‘cyberflashing’), both illegal.
Ofcom has been enlisted to create ‘codes of practice’ to be adhered to by service providers, including ‘the potential harmful impact of algorithms.’ Facebook Inc. is now seeking to create the option for a chronological feed for its Instagram users in order to seek to tackle the issues at hand.
The Chair of the Joint Committee, Damian Collins, has commented “For too long, Big Tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless. A lack of regulation online has left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and in some cases even loss of life.”
To report any abuses, contact UKSIC, which provides an online safety helpline for reporting child sexual abuse images and videos, harmful content and revenge porn.