Carnegie UK Trust responds to the publication of the Government response to the Online Harms White Paper

February 12, 2020

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The UK Government has today confirmed, in its response to the consultation on the Online Harms White Paper, that it will proceed with a statutory duty of care regime with OFCOM as the regulator. This is welcome news and mirrors the detailed thinking Professor Lorna Woods, William Perrin and Maeve Walsh have developed for Carnegie UK Trust over the last two years. Although no date for the introduction of a Bill has been confirmed, this announcement is a significant step forward towards action to reduce the level of harms, particularly to vulnerable groups, on social media platforms.

The Government is promising “more detailed proposals” on what this regulatory regime will look like in the Spring but the response provides some helpful clarification for a number of important issues that we flagged in our White Paper response: that the duty of care operates at the systemic level, not at the level of individual pieces of content; that it is not incompatible with preserving rights to freedom of expression (see Professor Wood’s recent comprehensive paper for more detail); and that transparency and a robust redress system will be vital to the regime’s successful operation. There are a number of other non-regulatory components to follow too, including: a Transparency Report, two interim voluntary codes of practice on terrorism and child abuse content, a media literacy strategy and a report into the safety technology ecosystem.

There is now a clear direction of travel and a timetable for the policy development. However, with the welcome appointment of OFCOM as the regulator, we believe that faster progress can be made towards the design of the system and the codes of practice that will underpin it if the regulator given early powers to proceed with preparatory work. This is the main objective of Lord McNally’s Private Bill (Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill), which we are delighted to support. We will continue to push for an early Second Reading for this Bill in order to keep up momentum and allow the necessary Parliamentary debate and scrutiny of these proposals to begin.