Web Inventor Wants Regulation of the Social Networks

Web Inventor Wants Regulation of the Social Networks

The British computer scientist issued an open letter today, 29 years to the day after he first proposed his idea for the online information management system that would later become known as the Web.

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.

These problems have proliferated because of the concentration of power in the hands of a few platforms - including Facebook, Google, and Twitter - which "control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared".

"A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions", he said. He doesn't, however, provide any finer details about what exactly that might entail.

Last year, social media giants, most headquartered in the USA, faced intense political pressure after admitting to being exploited by Russian internet trolls to spread misinformation and propaganda during the 2016 presidential election. To be offline today is to be excluded from opportunities to learn and earn, to access valuable services, and to participate in democratic debate.

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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. The root of the problem, he says, is that too much power has been concentrated in the hands of too few online corporations.

Failure to invest in closing the gap between the connected and unconnected - many of whom are poor, female and in low-income areas and countries - will deny the last billion people on earth internet access until 2042.

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. Create a new set of incentives and changes in the code will follow", he wrote. That's an entire generation left behind. "Greater ambition" for the web Berners-Lee is joining tech leaders including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff in calling for regulation for tech giants.

He's urging people to come together to tackle the threats to the web's future head-on, to help turn it into something that will "reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions". Furthermore, he lays out his desire to have more people involved from across business, tech, government, civil society, the arts, and academia in discussions around the future of the web and not those that control it.

"At the Web Foundation, we are ready to play our part in this mission and build the web we all want". Then, he's saying we must "make the web work for people", which means dominant platforms should make an effort not to "choke" the little guy.

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