Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

A Digital Duty of Care for Young People - Balancing the Interests of Lawyers and Designers Online

  Ellie Colegate (2020 cohort)

The Online Harms White Paper 2019 introduced a new set of policy measures covering the regulation of conduct and content on online platforms, the flagship measure of which was the proposed digital duty of care. [1] This digital duty will place obligations on platforms to keep users safe online as they interact with content and other users, posing a challenge for both lawyers and designers alike. Overall, this project seeks to understand the extent to which the law can influence and be influenced by design decisions online and will use the proposed digital duty proposals to explore this. As it is yet unconfirmed as to what underlying legal principles that the digital duty will be based upon, this project will be using this unique opportunity to look at how various forms of law could be adapted to apply online, as duty of care is something that exists in various forms.

The digital duty raises challenges for both designers and lawyers, as such arguably requires there to be a meeting of the two groups to build and design an instrument that works effectively as proposed within the White Paper. This project will focus on young people aged 12-20 as a user group by which this effectiveness can be measured. As a group that is increasingly affected by the possibility of encountering harm online, this project will look to these for guidance as to how a digital duty would be effective for them to protect from harm. [2] In addition to this, this project will consult designers to establish what a “digital duty” means for them and the ways in which the legal principles could be utilised to build an effective mechanism of regulation online. Taking the specific duty of care concept as established in Tort law and exploring its translation to the Internet will allow for the wider debate around the influence of law on design and vice versa to be explored. [3, 4]

This project will take advantage of the multidisciplinary environment in which it sits. Whilst there have been notable contributions in connection to the digital duty [5] which reaffirms the importance of this work, this project will pick apart the duty concept in detail and address the consequences this might have for the technical side of regulation. By consulting both designers and lawyers as part of the development of a digital duty that aligns with the concept’s history, rather than making or proposing technical changes related to specifications. This project will be involving technology as a subject of inquiry and commentary. Intending to establish how a digital duty could work around the current design decisions that have been made online [6], whilst also benefiting the end-user group of young people.

Key Publications

[1] The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, The Online Harms White Paper (2019)

[2] OFCOM, Information Commissioners Office and Jigsaw Research, ‘Internet Users’ Experience of Potential Online Harms: Summary of Survey Research’ (2020) <https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/internet-and-on-demand-research/internet-use-and-attitudes/internet-users-experience-of-harm-online>

[3] Tambini D, ‘The Differentiated Duty of Care: A Response to the Online Harms White Paper’ (2019) 11 Journal of Media Law 28

[4] Nyamutata C, ‘Childhood in the Digital Age: A Socio-Cultural and Legal Analysis of the UK’s Proposed Virtual Legal Duty of Care’ (2019) 27 International Journal of Law and Information Technology 311

[5] Woods L, ‘The Duty of Care in the Online Harms White Paper’ (2019) 11 Journal of Media Law 6

[6] Lessig L, Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0 (Version 20, Basic Books 2006)

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).