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THE Awards 2019: research to protect internet users makes shortlist

  • Date

    Thu 5 Sep 19

An Essex lawyer has been shortlisted for a major award, recognising the impact of her research developing a legal framework to protect internet users.

Professor Lorna Woods, of our School of Law, and Will Perrin, a former government advisor, have been shortlisted for Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards.

Their work, devising - and then arguing for - a Social Media Duty of Care, has already achieved significant impact, inspiring a national newspaper campaign, rallying civil society groups and influencing lawmakers, at home and abroad. 

Their original research draws on well-established duty of care models, from areas including health and safety law, and involves re-casting social media as a series of spaces. Under a duty of care, the aim is to prevent harm within a space. In the context of the online world, a service providers’ goal must then be user safety, rather than maximising engagement or profit. The more vulnerable an audience, the greater the service provider’s responsibility.

Professor Woods said: “We are, of course, delighted to be shortlisted for Humanities Research Project of the Year. The reality is, though, that this is an ongoing project and we feel there is still some way to go to achieve UK legislation that addresses the many categories of online harm. We hope this recognition will, in some small way, keep this issue in the minds of our lawmakers."

The authors developed over the course of seven unfunded blogs. That work was then collected into a report, with support from Carnegie UK Trust.

Will Perrin said: “It has been brilliant to work with a distinguished academic who is so focused on achieving impact and adept at working outside a conventional research environment on real time challenges. Carnegie UK Trust has been delighted with the impact this work has achieved in such a short time.”

In April this year, the government White Paper on Online Harms proposed a duty of care, overseen by an independent regulator, both key recommendations of this research.

In the Lords debate that followed, speaker after speaker noted the impact of Woods, Perrin and The Carnegie Trust, with their model also attracting interest from France, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and the EU.

This is the second of two THE award nominations this year for research projects in our School of Law.

Professor Karen Hulme, Head of School, said: “These two nominations attest to the vibrancy of the research being undertaken in the Law School. As a School, we look to develop our students’ research skills and their interest in research from Day One, teaching the law that matters and providing a legal education with global reach.”

The THE Award winners will be announced on 28 November, at a ceremony at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.