Internet safety expert recognised with OBE

  • Date

    Tue 13 Oct 20

An Essex legal expert has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her work on internet safety.

Professor Lorna Woods, from our School of Law, has been working since 2017 with William Perrin of the Carnegie UK Trust to develop a workable solution to ‘online harms’, a term that covers a range of internet safety issues. Professor Woods and Mr Perrin are to both receive OBEs.

Professor Woods said: “I am delighted, if a little surprised, by this honour. I’d like to thank Will, of course, but also Maeve Welsh and everyone at the Carnegie UK Trust – without their support, we would not have been able to develop our approach further or undertake the vital, ongoing engagement with those working in this area.

“Recent events have raised new concerns about the role of social media. The need for a statutory duty of care, overseen by an independent regulator, is not going away. In fact, it is more urgent than ever.

“We look forward to publication of the promised Online Harms Bill, and its consideration in this parliament.”

In October 2017, Professor Woods and Mr Perrin sat down to review the just-published Green Paper on Internet Safety Strategy.

Near-daily stories of bullying, self-harm and extremism had created a febrile debate. The challenge? To reset the online world and reduce the risk of harm.

The pair agreed the government response was inadequate. Drawing on their experience of the sector, they consulted with a range of actors, researched models already in use and started to write.

Across seven co-authored blogs, completed between February and May 2018 (and subsequently collected into a report, with funding from The Carnegie UK Trust), they sought to shift the debate from ”publishing” and the removal of specific content, to harm prevention, developing a detailed plan involving a statutory duty of care, overseen by an independent regulator.

The duty of care approach re-casts social media as a series of “public or quasi-public spaces”.  In creating these spaces, the providers’ goal must be not maximising profit, or engagement, but user safety. The more vulnerable an audience, the greater the responsibility.

At a time of significant public concern, their research has been a game-changer, offering a workable solution, inspiring a national newspaper campaign, rallying civil society groups and influencing lawmakers, at home and abroad.

In December 2019, they published their own draft Online Harm Reduction Bill, to maintain momentum. The draft bill was endorsed by organisations including the NSPCC, 5Rights Foundation, The Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the Royal Society of Public Health.

In January 2020, the authors and the Carnegie UK Trust also supported Lord McNally in the preparation of a short paving Bill to require Ofcom to prepare for the introduction of an Online Harms Reduction Regulator. The paving Bill was introduced into the Lords on 14 January 2020 and is currently awaiting a second reading.

Four Essex graduates have also been recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours:

  • Dr Philip Orumwense (MA Political Behaviour, 1991) will receive a CBE for public service. Philip was Commercial Director of IT at Highways England and is recognisesd for his work across the public sector.
  • Sir David Attenborough (Honorary Graduate), has received a GCMC for his services to broadcasting and conservation.
  • Miss Carrie Anne Philbin (BA History, 2002) has received an MBE for services to education, championing diversity and inclusion in computing.
  • Ms Clare Woodman (BA Government & Sociology, 1989) has received a CBE for services to finance in her role as Head of EMEA and CEO of Morgan Stanley & Co. International PLC.