Preventing online harm through “safety by design”

Zaizi developed guidance for small and medium-sized UK organisations with an online presence, hosted on GOV.UK

The client

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

Zaizi’s role

The brief

Seventy per cent of UK citizens believe that social media companies don’t do enough to prevent illegal or unethical behaviour on their platforms. The full government response to the online harms white paper set out the government’s ambitions to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online. 

It acknowledged the role of platform design in countering online harms and committed to developing guidance for small and medium-sized enterprises. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) asked Zaizi to help undertake user research and testing to develop this voluntary guidance for GOV.UK, to help small and medium-sized enterprises design safer online services and products.

The delivery 

Zaizi created a suite of guidance content for GOV.UK. The interlinked pages spelt out the shape of future legislation, and offered practical steps to safer platform design.

We also supplied:


A quick turnaround

This project took place in a 10-week timeframe, which covered full Discovery, Alpha and Beta phases. Zaizi ensured we would meet this by:

A specialised user base

Finding research participants for this project was difficult. The user base was very specialised: small and medium-sized organisations with digital services that use user-generated content or peer-to-peer communication. 

Zaizi contracted an external research company to aid in the research process. We contacted over 800 organisations, but recruitment was slow. We addressed the delay in user interviews by drafting content early and running the discovery and alpha phases in parallel, using some prior research supplied by DCMS. This allowed us to test some early assumptions. We also explored alternative routes to finding research participants, making use of personal networks, targeted social media posts and introductions from friendly industry bodies.

In the end we met our target, conducting contextual research and user testing sessions with a range of representative companies. This project underlined the importance of having several streams of research recruitment. Next time, we’ll explore more routes to finding research participants earlier in the process. 

Legislation in the works

One of the aims for this guidance was to help companies design safer platforms in advance of new online safety legislation. The legislation is at Bill stage, and is therefore in draft form. This, coupled with the need to be clear about the voluntary nature of the guidance  meant there was a limited amount we could tell our users about their future legal responsibilities and instead we focussed on the voluntary actions companies could take now to review and improve the design of their online platforms. 

Zaizi’s finished guidance highlighted the legislation as much as possible, while offering recommendations around how DCMS might add to this guidance as the legislation takes shape. 

“If it’s morally right, it’s probably good for business”

A platform owner

How we put our learnings into practice

No ‘one size fits all’ approach to online safety

The risk posed by online platforms depends on their specific features and functions – for instance, if they give users the ability to live stream, or send each other private messages. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to online safety. For that reason, we ensured the guidance let users navigate straight to the content that was relevant to them.

Addressing the future legislation 

Although the legislation was still at a draft stage and the guidance voluntary, it was important to tell users as much as possible about the shape of the future legislation because: 

Demystifying online harms

Many small and medium-sized organisations had little concept of online harms, or who was responsible for harms that happened on their online platform. This guidance succinctly explained what an online harm is. It also aimed to explain an organisation’s current and future responsibilities when harm occurs on their online platform. 

We also knew some users would be coming to this content reactively, so the guidance pointed to existing GOV.UK resources for reporting online harms.

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