October 26, 2023

Online safety and Carnegie UK

By Sarah Davidson, Carnegie UK

Today, the King gave his assent to new legislation designed to protect UK social media users from harm.

This follows five years of work by Carnegie UK, working in concert with over 50 partners, to raise concerns about online safety, arguing for an innovative approach to tackle the problem.

In 2018, we published a series of blogs by William Perrin and Professor Lorna Woods which outlined a new proposal for social media regulation. Their ideas drew from the long-held principles of health and safety laws – imposing a statutory duty of care and enforcing that with a regulator independent of government. A year later, the UK Government published its White Paper on tackling online harm, with this duty of care approach at its core.

Since then, the Carnegie UK team has worked hard to ensure that the Online Safety Bill delivers that vision. We’ve provided evidence to multiple Parliamentary committees and inquiries, while also convening and advising other charities, think tanks and campaign groups with a range of interests in the issue.

Our work has been repeatedly cited in debates by Parliamentarians of both Houses and the value of our work and advice to Peers was acknowledged by both the Labour and Liberal Democrat frontbench spokespeople at Lords Report.  We have worked with one coalition on fraud and scams to deliver vital changes to the Bill, and with another to produce a code on women and girls which, as a result of a concerted cross-bench campaign in the Lords, was instrumental in delivering a significant Government concession.

We were instrumental in securing other vital amendments to the Bill during its Parliamentary passage, including on Secretary of State’s powers; bringing small, high harm platforms into the regime; and making the “Triple Shield” regime more robust, through risk-based changes to the user empowerment duties and the terms of service.

The Online Safety Bill finally reaching Royal Assent is a huge milestone for Carnegie UK, and we’re grateful to our team, especially our Associates Maeve Walsh and Professor Lorna Woods, and our trustee, William Perrin, for all the work involved in getting to this point.  Maeve has done an excellent job of summarising what this moment means for UK tech policy, and how the Act will be implemented in a blog here. But what does the Bill reaching Royal Assent mean for the future of Carnegie UK’s work on Online Harms?

Carnegie UK has decided that it is the right time for our role in this work to come to an end. We will no longer have an active programme of work on online safety now that the Online Safety Act has been passed in Parliament. This is because we believe that other organisations are better placed to ensure the legislation works as intended and produces better outcomes, especially for vulnerable groups like children.

However, we are pleased that Lorna and Maeve will continue their vital work, supported by Reset (one of our former partners), through the Online Safety Act Network, a new vehicle which will help coordinate and support civil society engagement to secure the effective implementation of the Act.

Our archive of work on online harms up this point is available here, and you can contact  the new Online Safety Act Network here. You can also sign up to the Network’s new newsletter, which will pick up where our well-received Online Harms newsletter leaves off, here.

As an organisation that is committed to tackling threats to our collective wellbeing, Carnegie UK is proud to have been involved in this work right from its inception. We’re now passing the baton over to those working on the implementation of the Online Safety Act and look forward to seeing the improvements that this legislation will make to all of our wellbeing as it comes into force.