Social media algorithms putting people on potential journey towards crime – Kyle

Social media algorithms are “bringing together people with harmful values” and potentially putting them “on a journey towards” criminal activity, the shadow technology secretary has said.

Peter Kyle suggested Brianna Ghey’s killers Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe were fed harmful content by algorithms online.

Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were both 15 when they killed Brianna, a transgender 16-year-old, with a hunting knife after luring her to Linear Park, Culcheth, a village near Warrington, Cheshire, on February 11.

Jenkinson had watched videos of torture and murder online.

Labour’s Mr Kyle said the “primary blame” rests with the tech giants who “designed the algorithms” — the software that recommends content to users, often based on subjects the user has previously shown an interest in.

Speaking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday programme, the shadow minister said there was a need to “mitigate these harms before they wash over society”.

During the interview, the Hove MP was asked whether he agreed with criticism levelled at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other social media bosses at a US Senate child safety hearing this week.

The tech leaders had been told there was “blood on your hands”.

Mr Kyle said: “I think the tech companies bear a lot of the responsibility.

“I think legislators and regulators were also behind the curve, but I think the primary blame does rest with the people developing this technology because they knew before anyone else the impact it could have.

“They saw the coding, they designed the algorithms. Don’t forget what we learnt from Brianna’s case in the last few weeks.”

He said the teenager’s murderers “were interacting online, and expressing some violent thoughts online, on social media” — something he suggested those social media platforms might have known “well ahead of time”.

Peter Kyle
Peter Kyle said social media algorithms are bringing together people with ‘harmful values’ (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The senior Opposition figure continued: “Now, what the algorithms do is match people with similar concerns, similar language, together.

“The algorithm brings people together who share those certain values.

“So, it is clear that social media is bringing together people with harmful values, potentially on a journey towards a criminal activity, and they might well have known this well ahead of time.

“We need to make sure that where there is the potential for harm, tech companies are throwing open the doors so we can have transparency.

“We can work together to mitigate these harms before they wash over society, which is what is happening at the moment.”

Mr Kyle, who is currently in Washington DC to speak with US government figures and technology and artificial development firms, also said communications watchdog Ofcom should be given powers to look at how social media might be offering people a “pathway” into the so-called dark web, a hidden form of the internet.

Jenkinson must serve a minimum of 22 years before parole and Ratcliffe 20 years for the murder of Brianna.

They were identified for the first time as they were sentenced on Friday after the judge lifted a ban, initially put in place on account of their ages, on the press naming them.