UK Implements Tough Measures Against Harmful Algorithms to Protect Youth Online

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Social media giants TikTok and Instagram are in the spotlight as Britain takes decisive action to protect its youth from harmful online content.

Under new regulations set forth by Ofcom, these platforms are mandated to rein in their algorithms that propagate detrimental material to children.

The stringent code of practice outlined by Ofcom aims to clean up social media and search engines under the powers vested by the Online Safety Act. Platforms will now be required to implement robust age verification measures to prevent minors from accessing explicit content and material promoting self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders.

Failure to comply with these regulations could result in substantial penalties, with fines of up to £18 million or 10% of global revenue, along with the possibility of service blockage and criminal proceedings against senior executives.

The Online Safety Act positions the UK as a global leader in combating harmful online content, striving to establish the nation as “the safest place in the world to be online.” This initiative surpasses efforts seen in the US while aligning with similar legislations in Australia and Europe.

Messaging services such as WhatsApp and Snapchat are also impacted by these regulations, requiring consent for under-18s to be added to group chats and granting them greater control over their online interactions, including the ability to block and mute accounts and disable comments.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Chief Executive of Ofcom, emphasised the significance of these measures, stating, “Our proposed codes firmly place the responsibility for keeping children safer on tech firms. They will need to tame aggressive algorithms that push harmful content to children and introduce age-checks to tailor the online experience according to age.”

Ofcom’s decision to address algorithms follows investigations into their role in disseminating dangerous content to children. TikTok, in particular, has been scrutinised for its algorithmic feed, which swiftly exposes users to potentially harmful material.

To ensure effective age verification, platforms will be required to adopt stringent measures, including facial recognition technology and photo ID verification, to safeguard children from online risks.

Michelle Donelan, the technology secretary, hailed these measures as pivotal, stressing the need for platforms to implement real-world age-checks and address algorithmic flaws contributing to youth exposure to harmful content.

Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, described the draft code as “a welcome step in the right direction”.

Ian Russell, father of Molly, who took her life aged 14 after viewing disturbing content on social media, said: “Ofcom’s task was to seize the moment and propose bold and decisive measures that can protect children from widespread but inherently preventable harm.