Tim Berners-Lee, better known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, has revealed a global mission to protect the internet from threats such as fake news, political manipulation, and other forms of abuse, as reported by The Guardian.
On Monday, during a talk at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Berners-Lee told governments, users, and companies to stand behind his “Contract for the Web”. This contract hopes to protect people’s rights on the internet.
Tim Berners-Lee, Image from The Verge
The Right To Online Freedom
The document will be published online in 2019, and details core principles behind the movement. Over 50 groups have signed it already. The contract is published by the World Wide Web Foundation – also founded by Berners-Lee.
In a statement to The Guardian, Berners-Lee comments on the current state of the internet:
“For many years there was a feeling that the wonderful things on the web were going to dominate and we’d have a world with less conflict, more understanding, more and better science, and good democracy. But people have become disillusioned because of all the things they see in the headlines. Humanity connected by technology on the web is functioning in a dystopian way. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation (sic), fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken. This is a contract to make the web one which serves humanity, science, knowledge and democracy,”
Berners-Lee calls the contract a “Magna Carta for the web”. He claims it is the government’s responsibility to see that all citizens have internet access. These citizens should always have access, and that they can browse “freely, safely and without fear.”
The contract also calls on internet users. Each participant has the responsibility of creating content that is “rich and relevant.” Building strong communities is essential in protecting civility. It’s important to fight for an internet that is “a global public resource for people everywhere”.
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed the contract. He compliments Berners-Lee in a statement:
“Tim Berners-Lee has pinpointed one of the great human rights issues of our time and his proposal deserves worldwide support.”
Unfortunately, Berners-Lee reveals that it will be difficult to see the contract’s success. However, the founder hopes it will help generate conversation across the world.
A Slew of Support
Interestingly, big tech such as Facebook, despite signing the contract, have actioned against the contract. For example, the companies’ Cambridge Analytica leaks show it may not be in favor of a free internet.
Google, who also signed early, is supposedly censoring its search engines for a Chinese market. Berners-Lee is against this, claiming that “if you sign up to the principles, you can’t do censorship”. He continues, “will this be enough to make search engines push back? Will it be persuasive enough for the Chinese government to be more open? I can’t predict whether that will happen.”
Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard University, reminds people that this version of the web isn’t the “only one possible”. This contract limits those who have the most power.
An online security firm, Cloudflare, has also signed the contract. “We believe it offers an important opportunity to step back and examine the responsibilities we all have to make sure the web delivers on its promise,” says a spokesperson.
While some online issues aren’t completely malicious – such as fake news bringing in ad revenue, they are still just that: issues. Berners-Lee is looking to fight against this:
“People in the big companies are concerned about truth and democracy. They don’t want people to look back and say theirs was the platform that misled people to vote against their own best interests. The genie may seem to have come out of the bottle, but the internet has surprised us many times. Things change.”