Social media has changed the landscape of communication for millions across the globe. The benefits that social networks can bring are plentiful and well documented, but the harm that many people have suffered through abusive or negative engagement with other users on these platforms can be troubling.
In 2018-2019 Professor Lorna Woods and William Perrin developed a public policy proposal to improve the safety of some users of internet services in the United Kingdom. Drawing on the well-established concepts and legislation, they propose a statutory duty of care backed by an independent regulator, with measuring, reporting and transparency obligations.
This work seeks to most effectively balance the competing tensions of reducing harm, maintaining free speech, innovation, democratic oversight, corporate risk aversion and political intervention.
‘Duty of Care’ – Full Report April 2019
The Full Report consolidates the body of work that has been produced throughout the project. The Full Report provides an extensive backdrop of the existing legal context, clear rationale for which platforms should be included within the new regulation, delineates which harms should be covered and delivers a comprehensive exploration of how the proposal can work in practice.
The report was produced in advance of the publication of the UK Government’s Online Harms White Paper, which set out the Government’s proposals for regulation in this area.
The Refined ‘Duty of Care’ Proposal 2019
The updated proposal outlines a refined approach to the statutory duty of care model, which requires social media and other internet platforms to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm from arising to users.
Following engagement with a range of stakeholders, the paper sets out new or revised thinking on a number of key aspects of the approach including: the scope of services subject to regulation, the nature of harms included, penalties and the interaction of the proposal with criminal law.
The ‘Duty of Care’ Proposal 2018
In early 2018, we published a preliminary proposal across a series of detailed blogs, presenting the case for a system where legislation creates a statutory duty of care for the largest social networks towards their users, backed up by a regulator.
Blog 1. The opening post puts forth the belief that society can rein in the harm on social media that negatively impacts what should and could be a great force for good.
Blog 2. The second post outlines how a social media regulation regime could work in practice.
Blog 3. In Europe there are many examples of effective regulation outside the digital and media sphere that limits harm to people, several examples are explored in this post.
Blog 4. This post offers a non-technical overview discussion of ‘duty of care’ on the largest social media service providers to their users.
Blog 5. To balance regulation and free speech, the view is to only regulate the largest or most harmful platforms. This post sets out how to choose which platforms to include.
Blog 6. A key goal of this work is to enable a perpetual, transparent cycle of harm reduction. This post examines how practically a regulator would work on a risk-managed basis with companies, users, victims and civil society to create this cycle.
Blog 7. The final post explores who would regulate the regime. It includes a survey of the landscape and concludes OFCOM would be the optimal body, funded by a share of the internet revenue tax.
This work has fed into a number of consultations, media and journal articles including:
- Duty of Care, Lorna Woods (2019) International Institute Of Communications
- Introducing A Duty Of Care For Social Media, Maeve Walsh (2018) Digital Leaders
- Detoxifying Social Media Would Be Easier Than You Might Think, Will Perrin (2018) The Guardian
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