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, or through the impact of design choices that shape or influence the content they view, can be troubling.
Since early 2018, Professor Lorna Woods and William Perrin have been working on a public policy proposal to improve the safety of users of internet services in the United Kingdom. Drawing on 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.
A draft Online Harm Reduction Bill
We have developed a draft Bill to demonstrate how a regulatory scheme involving a duty of care enforced by an independent regulator might operate. We hope that this Bill can focus public debate on vital elements of how the regime might work. It is short (just 60 clauses) and sets out: a definition of a duty of care; who the duty applies to and the risk management steps that a company should take. It also makes Ofcom the regulator and grants them powers, via amendments to the Communications Act 2003, to take on these new responsibilities. The draft Bill and explanatory notes are here and we will be engaging with Parliamentarians, policymakers and civil society groups to discuss and scrutinise this approach and its adoption.
Paving Bill: Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill
To accelerate progress, the Trust has also supported Lord McNally in the preparation of a short paving Bill [Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill], to require Ofcom to prepare for the introduction of an Online Harms Reduction Regulator; it was introduced into the Lords on 14 January 2020. A date for the second reading debate is yet to be confirmed.
A Statutory Duty of Care and a Regulator: full report
The Full Report, published in April 2019, 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. It draws on the thinking set out in a series of blogposts previously published on this website which can be accessed via our blogs page.
Response to the Online Harms White Paper June 2019
In its Online Harms White Paper (April 2019), the Government proposed a statutory duty of care to keep UK users safe online. This Paper is the Carnegie UK Trust response to and is accompanied by a summary blog focussing on the issues for further consideration [here].
Further discussion on the differences between the Government’s proposal and the Carnegie UK Trust work, along with responses to some of the FAQs and objections on the White Paper’s proposals, is also set out in this blog from August 2019.
In addition to the formal response to the Government consultation, Carnegie UK Trust also joined six other organisations – Demos, doteveryone, the Fawcett Society, Glitch, Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Privacy International – to release a Joint Statement setting out why the Government’s proposal for a duty of care should do more to address harms arising to our democracy.
Developing our proposal
We have developed our work in an open, collaborative and constructive way, sharing our thinking with academic and legal experts for critique and collaborating with policymakers, regulators campaigners, NGOs and other groups representing those who may experience harm online. We have put in many submissions to Parliamentary inquiries and other consultations (see download section below), hosted workshops and other events, and published further blogs and articles on our developing thinking.
In addition to the submissions to consultations which are available below in the download section, our work has fed into a number of media and journal articles including:
- The Time has come for Action on Online Harms, Maeve Walsh (2020) RSA
- Will 2020 be the Year Regulation Catches up with Social Media? Maeve Walsh (2020) International Institute of Communications (IIC)
- Protecting Social Media Users: Arguing for a Duty of Care, a RightsCast podcast with Professor Lorna Woods
- 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
Please see downloads for additional content.