Home / Programmes / Online Harms and a Statutory Duty of Care (Ended October 2023)

Online Harms And A Statutory Duty Of Care

Carnegie UK worked for over four years to develop and promote a systemic, risk-based approach to regulation to tackle online harm in the UK and has influenced the development of the UK’s Online Safety Act. This programme of work came to an end in October 2023. However, our former associates Maeve Walsh and Professor Lorna Woods have continued to work on the implementation of the Online Safety Act. To get in touch with them, or find more about this work, please visit their website. To keep up with the latest developments on their work, you can also sign up to their new newsletter here

You can access the archive of Carnegie UK’s dedicated Online Safety Act resource page here. You can read archived editions of our former Online Harms newsletter here

An archive of our programme page for Online Harms can be read below.

Our mission at Carnegie is to improve the wellbeing of the people in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In the modern world social media has an increasing impact on wellbeing – good and bad. 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 individuals and communities 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.

Carnegie UK working with Professor Lorna Woods pioneered in 2018 a completely new approach to social media regulation – imposing a statutory duty of care on platform companies and enforcing that with a powerful regulator independent of government.  To fulfil such a duty social media companies would have to assess the risk of harm arising from their systems and then mitigate those harms by designing and running safer systems. The statutory duty of care model was radically different to regulating individual pieces of content. The UK government took up this approach in their 2019 White Paper and it remains at the core of the Online Safety Bill.

Our 2019 reference paper explains the model in detail. A comprehensive paper by Professor Lorna Woods OBE also explores the intersection between the duty of care and fundamental freedoms, in particular the right to freedom of expression.

The proposal has been developed by Professor Lorna Woods OBE (Professor of Internet Law, University of Essex), William Perrin OBE (Carnegie UK Trustee) and Maeve Walsh (Carnegie UK Associate). William Perrin and Professor Woods received OBEs in recognition for their work in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2020.

Responses to Government Online Harms Proposals

Carnegie UK has followed and influenced the legislative process on the Online Safety Bill since its inception. We have provided evidence – in writing and in person – to numerous Parliamentary committees and inquiries and we continue to influence, convene and advise various stakeholders with interests in this field. Our work has been cited by Parliamentarians many times in debate. We have worked with a coalition on fraud and scams to deliver vital changes to the OSB and with another coalition of campaigners and charities to produce a code of practice on Violence Against Women and Girls. Our most recent written submission of evidence to the Online Safety Bill recommittal Committee can be read here. Ahead of the Committee stages of the Bill in the House of Lords, we have published our most recent compilation of analysis on issues for peers to return to at this stage.

International Relevance

We know that global social media companies will put more effort into safety if many countries are imposing similar rules on them. The more co-ordinated international action there is, the better the outcomes for UK citizens. Carnegie UK has worked with politicians, bureaucrats and civil society organisations around the world on different approaches to systemic regulation.  Our work is reflected in the approach adopted in the European Union’s Digital Services Act and to some extent in the UNESCO Guidelines on Internet for Trust.  We have developed a model code for tackling social media harms which could be deployed across multiple content domains and jurisdictions – the Model Code provides a common framework for a company approaches to risk assessment and mitigation.  We have also provided advice to the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues and combatting hate speech targeting minorities on social media.

Please see downloads for additional content including news reports, briefing notes and consultation responses.

Speak to us

Maeve Walsh


Amy Baker

Policy Advocate

Further Materials

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:

  1. LSE Online Safety Bill Briefing, Panel discussion with Prof Lorna Woods (2021) LSE
  2. Are internet algorithms a problem for human rights? Better Human Podcast interview with Prof Lorna Woods (2021) Better Human
  3. Platform Regulation ITM Universität Münster Hate Speech & Platform Regulation podcast interview with Prof Lorna Woods (2021) ITM Universität Münster
  4. Reducing Online Harms: A Statutory Duty of Care Making Sense of Tech Law podcast interview with Prof Lorna Woods (2021) SCL Student Bytes
  5. Account(Ability) Suspended: Who Governs Online Speech? Reasons to be Cheerful podcast interview with Prof Lorna Woods (2021) Reasons to be Cheerful
  6. The proposed Digital Markets Act: overview and analysis Prof Lorna Woods (2021) EU Law Analysis
  7. Britain can lead the world in reining in the tech giants if we get the details right Prof Lorna Woods and William Perrin (2020) Telegraph
  8. Overview of Digital Services Act Prof Lorna Woods (2020) EU Law Analysis
  9. European Democracy Action Plan – an Overview Prof Lorna Woods (2020) EU Law Analysis
  10. Electoral Matters Committee’s Inquiry into the Impact of Social Media on Elections and Electoral Administration, Transcript of evidence provided by Prof Lorna Woods and William Perrin (2020) Parliament of Victoria
  11. Can the Government Stop Internet Harms? Parent Zone podcast interview with William Perrin (2020) Parent Zone
  12. Online harms: we need to bring the public into public policy, Maeve Walsh (2020) Demos
  13. Me and My Trolls, File on 4 podcast with contribution from Prof Lorna Woods (2020)
  14. Perspectives on children navigating a digital world, Panel discussion with Prof Lorna Woods (2020) British Academy
  15. Renewing Democracy in the Digital Age, William Perrin essay included in this Berggruen Institute collection (2020) Berggruen Institute
  16. Why UK digital regulation makes good sense for UK digital businesses, Maeve Walsh (2020) Digital Agenda
  17. The Time has come for Action on Online Harms, Maeve Walsh (2020) RSA
  18. Will 2020 be the Year Regulation Catches up with Social Media? Maeve Walsh (2020) International Institute of Communications (IIC)
  19. How to Police Facebook and Google like a Public Place – Wall Street Journal profile by Parmy Olson (2019) Wall Street Journal
  20. Grand International Committee on Disinformation and Fake News (Transcript), Prof Lorna Woods (2019)
  21. Protecting Social Media Users: Arguing for a Duty of Care, a RightsCast podcast with Prof Lorna Woods
  22. Duty of Care, Prof Lorna Woods (2019) International Institute Of Communications
  23. Introducing A Duty Of Care For Social Media, Maeve Walsh (2018) Digital Leaders
  24. Detoxifying Social Media Would Be Easier Than You Might Think, William Perrin (2018) The Guardian