Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned that the World Wide Web he invented three decades ago has now become a space for ‘those who spread hatred’.
In a letter to mark the web’s 30th anniversary, the British engineer lamented the fact that it has ‘made all kinds of crime easier to commit’ and is used by ‘scammers’ to such a degree that they will be ‘impossible to eradicate completely’.
And he warned that the internet has degraded the quality of debate online, by fuelling outrage and polarising opinions.
But Sir Tim also urged Governments around the world to crack down on the problems, saying that it would be ‘defeatist’ not to.
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Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned that the World Wide Web he invented three decades ago has now become a space for ‘those who spread hatred. In a letter to mark the web’s 30th anniversary, the British engineer lamented the fact that it has ‘made all kinds of crime easier to commit’ and is used by ‘scammers’ (file photo)
His plea follows a spate of scandals over vile content on platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter, ranging from material promoting child sex abuse images, to hate speech by far-Right activists and jihadists.
It also comes amid mounting evidence that the web giants are being used to disrupt democracy.
Many governments around the world have been wary of introducing too many laws to govern the web, for fear of stifling free speech and innovation.
However, they have changed their views over the last few years, following evidence that the web was spinning out of control.
In November 2018, Sir Tim unveiled a new ‘Contract for the Web’ at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon.
The contract includes a set of ethical principles that Sir Tim and his World Wide Web Foundation are hoping will be adopted by governments, companies and individuals.
In Britain, the Government is expected to publish its long-awaited White Paper on ‘online harms’ within days – potentially appointing a new regulator to curb the spread of vile content online.
Speaking ahead of the paper, Sir Tim said it would be ‘unimaginative’ to assume that the web could not be changed for the better given how far it has already come in three decades.
‘If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us – we will have failed the web,’ he said.
He called on politicians around the world to defend free speech, and urged people to resist blaming the internet’s problems on individual web firms or governments.
‘You can’t just blame one government, one social network or the human spirit. Simplistic narratives risk exhausting our energy as we chase the symptoms of these problems instead of focusing on their root causes,’ he said.
In November 2018, Sir Tim unveiled a new ‘Contract for the Web’ at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon. The contract includes a set of ethical principles that Sir Tim and his World Wide Web Foundation are hoping will be adopted by governments, companies and individuals (pictured)
SEVEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORLD WIDE WEB AS IT CELEBRATES 30 YEARS
March 12 marks a significant milestone in British technology with the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web.
In 1989, working at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal for information management that would go on to transform the way people communicate and consume information.
Here are some interesting facts about the World Wide Web:
– The World Wide Web was developed out of frustration
Sir Tim invented the World Wide Web because he was frustrated to have to constantly log on to a different computer every time he wanted to access different information not on his main computer.
– ‘Vague but exciting’
Sir Tim’s boss at CERN, Mike Sendall, left three short but powerful words when he first received the proposal paper for the World Wide Web: “Vague but exciting.”
At the end, he simply said: “And now?”
– The World Wide Web is not the same as the internet
The World Wide Web and the internet are wrongly confused as the same thing – something Sir Tim is quick to correct people on.
The internet, which is a network of networks formed of computers, existed long before the World Wide Web.
WWW is the transfer of information, whether it be text, documents or other rich content like videos.
– The World Wide Web was almost called something completely different
Sir Tim considered a number of name options before settling on World Wide Web.
Among the contenders were Mine of Information, The Information Mine and Information Mesh.
– The first website just explained what the World Wide Web was
The first web page, defining what the Web is, did not go live until August 6, 1991.
A copy of it can still be viewed here today.
The first web browser was also called WorldWideWeb
Years before the Internet Explorer, Sir Tim also created the first web browser, which went by the same name, WorldWideWeb.
– You can still see how the Web looked originally
Developers and designers at CERN recently rebuilt the original browser, allowing people to experience the World Wide Web as it was first intended.
Anyone can try the browser out by clicking here.
The computer scientist argued that politicians need to tackle three categories of problem – the first being ‘deliberate, malicious intent’, such as ‘state-sponsored hacking and attacks’, criminal behaviour and online harassment.
These problems are’ impossible to eradicate completely,’ Sir Tim said, but he added that governments ‘can create both laws and code to minimise this behaviour, just as we have always done offline’.
The second category includes flaws in the design of web platforms that reward companies for doing things that will not necessarily benefit users.
Sir Tim cited as an example the ‘ad-based revenue models’ used by the major social networks and many news platforms, which reward so-called ‘clickbait’ articles.
The third category is the ‘viral spread of misinformation’.
Sir Tim said: ‘The second category requires us to redesign systems in a way that change incentives.
‘And the final category calls for research to understand existing systems and model possible new ones or tweak those we already have.’
The British engineer first came up with the World Wide Web in 1989.
He proposed it as an information management system which he was working for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN.
Around half of the world’s population is now online. But Sir Tim was due to attend an event at the Science Museum on Tuesday morning to stress the ‘urgent’ need to now get the other half connected.
In his letter, he said: ‘The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time.
‘Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity.’
HOW DID TIM BERNERS-LEE CREATE THE INTERNET?
The World Wide Web was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist born on June 8, 1955.
Having studied physics at Queen’s College Oxford, graduating in 1976, he started as an engineer in the telecommunications and microprocessor software industry.
In 1980, while working as an independent contractor at CERN, Berners-Lee described the concept of a global system based on using hypertext to share information between researchers.
Tim Berners-Lee wrote (pictured) the blueprint for what would become the World Wide Web, and said he is alarmed at what has happened to it in the last year
He built a prototype system called Enquire, which formed the conceptual basis for the World Wide Web.
In 1989 he published his landmark paper, ‘Information Management: A Proposal’, built the first WWW server and web browser ‘WorldWideWeb.app’.
In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium, the main international standards organisation for the internet.