Tim Berners-Lee’s comments mark the 30th anniversary of the web
In March 1989 the world was a wildly different place; the destruction of the Berlin wall wouldn’t start for another eight months, Jason Donovan was number one in the UK charts (LOL), and Tim Berners-Lee had just submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web.
Fast forward 30 years, and I’m lying in bed while an ASMR-practicing nun from the 1300s cures me of the bubonic plague via her popular YouTube channel. Progression! As he marks its 30th anniversary, web inventor Berners-Lee reflects on the last three decades of the World Wide Web, and issues a stark warning about its dangers.
In an open letter for the Web Foundation, Berners-Lee writes: “While the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.”
Once regarded as a innovative tool for education and connection, the web has been spun into a labyrinth of fake news, trolls, and revenge porn. Berners-Lee identifies its current problems as being split into three categories; the first is “deliberate, malicious intent”, including online harassment, and state-sponsored hacking. The second is when a user’s experience is sacrificed for “perverse incentives”, which basically means when clickbait = money, and the final problem is when well-meaning services still result in negativity, “such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.”
Assertive that the blame mustn’t be placed on “one government” or “one social network”, Berners-Lee’s solution is to build something he calls a ‘Contract for the Web’. The contract aims to establish a set of laws and standards, to which “governments, companies and citizens are all contributing.”
Echoing his 2017 statement that “we’ve lost control of our personal data”, one of Berners-Lee’s main concerns for the Contract for the Web still remains that “platforms and products must be designed with privacy, diversity and security in mind.” With data-harvesting scandals like Cambridge Analytica still fresh in our minds, it’s undeniable the web has become a scary place when it comes to personal safety.
But it’s not just privacy that needs to improve online, as fake news continues to spread like wildfire, and people in Russia are forced to protest for internet freedom, Berners-Lee asserts that everyone must contribute to achieve a web that “drives equality, opportunity and creativity.”
But, although he acknowledges the overt dysfunction of today’s web, Berners-Lee remains optimistic about its future. “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.”