July 01, 2019

Online Harms White Paper - “Duty of care not the right approach” experts agree

The government needs to convene a comprehensive meeting with all relevant stakeholders to map a way forward on its Internet regulation plans, says a leading group of experts in an open letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).


This call, made jointly by the Oxford Internet Institute (part of the University of Oxford), Open Rights Group, The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), Global Partners Digital and Index on Censorship, responds to the government's Online Harms White Paper.

It follows the findings of a multi-stakeholder workshop convened in June 2019 by these organisations, at which participants unanimously agreed that whilst a systematic approach is needed to dealing with problematic content online, a “duty of care” is not the right approach. 

Many participants noted that the concept of duty of care does not translate well from the offline to the online context, and as such it provides little clarity as to what duties can and should be expected of companies within scope of the OHWP.

Amy Shepherd, Open Rights Group’s Legal and Policy Officer, said:

“The government’s proposals are underpinned by the notion of a “duty of care” but they’ve never actually asked stakeholders if this is the right approach. The complete lack of support for the duty of care at our workshop suggests that a fundamental rethink and more extensive consultation are needed if this policy is going to succeed. 

Prof. Victoria Nash, Deputy Director at the Oxford Internet Institute, added:

“The government needs to take a more collaborative approach to policy formation and delivery, by actively engaging all key stakeholders together.”

Organisations represented at the workshop included human rights NGOs, social media platforms, telecoms and media companies, news media, industry associations, parenting and child rights organisations, academia, think tanks, government departments and independent regulators. The aim was to bring together representatives from all the relevant sectors, discuss differences of opinion in relation to the government’s regulatory proposals and find areas of consensus.

Notes to editors:

A full record of the workshop is available online at: 

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3412790

The text of the open letter is available at: 

https://www.openrightsgroup.org/about/reports/open-letter-to-the-rt-hon-jeremy-wright-qc-mp-secretary-of-state-for-digital,-culture,-media-and-sport

The government’s open consultation on the Online Harms White Paper closes today.

Contact: amy@openrightsgroup.org