In Brief

Internet at 30: Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns of web’s ‘dysfunctional future’

The World Wide Web creator says governments and tech giants must act to safeguard online environment

The creator of the World Wide Web is calling for an urgent global campaign to tackle the internet’s “downward plunge to a dysfunctional future”. 

In an interview with the BBC to mark the 30th anniversary of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said he was “very concerned about nastiness and misinformation” being spread online today.

The British scientist believes that in the wake of last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, web users are beginning to better understand the risks they face - and that now is the time to tackle such problems.

In an open letter on the site of his World Wide Web Foundation, Berners-Lee says that the internet had “given marginalised groups a voice” and “made our daily lives easier”, but that this had come at the cost of giving opportunities to “scammers” and providing a platform “to those who spread hatred”.

He outlines three main “sources of dysfunction” that are routinely causing problems. The first is “deliberate, malicious intent”, including online abuse and state-sponsored hacking attacks.

Berners-Lee also cites the “system design that creates perverse incentives”, where users are encouraged to click on “ad-based” articles with “clickbait” headlines.

The third category is the “unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse”. 

Calling for global action, he argues that “governments must translate laws and regulations for the digital age”.

“They must ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and freedoms online,” he says. 

Berners-Lee is also demanding that tech companies collaborate with these efforts, and ensure that their “pursuit of short-term profit” doesn’t come at the expensive of “human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety”, The Guardian reports. 

He writes: “This year, we’ve seen a number of tech employees stand up and demand better business practices. We need to encourage that spirit.”

Speaking to the BBC, he concluded: “The web is for everyone, and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy.

“But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”

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