Web Inventor Wants Regulation of the Social Networks

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

Tim Berners-Lee 'Beware the weaponised web'

Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users - more than 20 times more than MySpace at its peak. In particular, Berners-Lee is anxious about the web being "weaponized" in order to spread conspiracy theories, "stoke social tensions" through the use of fake social media accounts, and steal people's personal data.

Berners-Lee said this will result in "far less" innovation over the next 20 years than that seen during the web's infancy. In 2016, the United Nations (UN) ruled that access to the internet and protected online freedom was a human right.

Berners-Lee points out that these key companies control which "ideas and options are seen and shared" at a key point in history, with the number of people with internet access globally to exceed 50 per cent for the first time in 2018, in line with the United Nations declaration that using the net is a basic human right.

"The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponise the web at scale", he writes.

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"Companies are aware of the problems and are making efforts to fix them-with each change they make affecting millions of people. Add to this the competitive advantage that their user data gives them and we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last".

The inventor goes on to say that these so-called gatekeepers buy up innovations and talent in a bid to lock their position on the web.

Mr Berners-Lee warned of "two myths" that "limit our collective imagination" when looking for solutions to the problems facing the web: "The myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it's too late to change the way platforms operate".

This concentration of power makes it possible to "weaponise the web at scale", evidenced by the spread of conspiracy theories, fake social media accounts created to sow discord, state-level interference in elections and cybercriminals able to steal "troves of personal data".

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"Two myths now limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it's too late to change the way platforms operate". On both points, we need to be a little more creative.

"We have to grit our teeth and hang on to the fence and not take it for granted that the web will lead us to wonderful things".

He wants a meeting of people from "business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia" to come together and try to right the ship.

"I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfill our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions", Berners-Lee writes as the web gets closer to being a full three decades old. Berners-Lee said people should challenge themselves to promote "greater ambitions" for the web, which may include emphasis on decentralisation and regulation for the largest firms.

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