UK’s Ofcom wants Social Media Algorithm Regulation


UK communications industry regulator Ofcom is calling for better social media regulations amid concerns about the influence US-based tech giants have on news consumption in the UK.

“US tech firms increasingly shape the news stories that people in the UK see and read […] leading to risks around transparency and choice in news,” the regulator wrote in an article dated November 16, 2022.

Warning about the potentially polarizing effect of the contemporary digital mediascape and the unclear influence of social media and news site “gatekeepers,” Ofcom suggested that new regulations may be required to understand and address the impact of online gatekeepers on media plurality.

“This might include new tools to require tech firms to be more transparent over the choices they make in determining the news we see online, as well as giving users themselves more choice and control,” Ofcom proposed.

The article coincides with the publication of a broad-ranging discussion document that explores how online intermediaries currently operate within the U.K. news ecosystem.

Having identified the challenges that digital platforms pose the U.K.’s news media, in the next stage of its investigation Ofcom intends to look more closely at the different regulatory options available to to promote media plurality online.

To date, Ofcom has not subjected social media platforms to the same regulatory scrutiny as it does broadcast and print media. Much of the discussion document deals with the challenges in defining and categorizing the different stakeholders that produce, host and disseminate online content.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Ofcom’s chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes suggested that algorithms that rank and sort social media feeds, which platforms typically don’t publish, could be the target of efforts to increase transparency.

“It may not be about setting rules, but it may be about requiring more transparency or giving the regulator the ability to shine a light [on] how these feeds and algorithms work,” she said.

Meanwhile, the very same US-based social media giants also influence news consumed the peoples of African countries, including Ghana, but African regulators are sitting on the fence unconcerned about how their peoples are being influenced by big tech.

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