Social media users should have to opt into algorithms that could promote harmful content, says former culture secretary and peer

Her inquest next year will examine whether the schoolgirl was ‘overwhelmed’ by the images and posts the algorithm showed her. 

In the oped, Mr Wright and Baroness Kidron said: “Instead of always acting too late, we should expect online platforms to scan the horizon and design in protection against emerging harms as they appear.  

“That may mean removing features that are easily exploited by bad actors, providing age-appropriate versions of products, higher default settings that give consumers more options to opt in to targeting and above all companies taking responsibility for what they recommend and promote – to ensure they do not routinely contribute to harmful outcomes.”

The intervention comes from two influential figures in the debate over online harms. As the culture secretary under Theresa May, Mr Wright was the architect of the 2019 White Paper that first proposed imposing a statutory duty on tech giants.

Meanwhile, it was a parliamentary amendment by Baroness Kidron that created the UK’s first statutory online safety rules, the Age Appropriate Design Code, which are due to come into force next year.

Last month, the former cabinet minister and crossbench peer became joint chairs of a new all party parliamentary group set up to scrutinise the new online regulation.

In the oped, the pair warned the new online regulator, expected to be Ofcom, must have “serious oversight powers” to ensure social media algorithms promoting the most harmful material.

Ministers are considering arming Ofcom with a range of sanctions from levying huge fines or banning apps from the UK to prosecuting senior executives of tech companies that repeatedly fail in their duty of care.

Mr Wright and Baroness Kidron urged ministers to bring in duty of care laws as soon as possible, warning lockdown had exacerbated harms such as grooming and dangerous health misinformation, 

They added: “As the threat of a difficult winter looms – with even more time spent inside and online – this must finally be the time for the Government to combat online harms and to protect the most vulnerable online.”

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “We’re developing new laws at pace to protect people online while promoting an open and vibrant internet.

“Online companies will need robust systems in place to keep their users safe and there will be tough sanctions for those that do not fulfill their duty of care. We have consulted widely on our proposals and will publish our final plans later this autumn.”

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