Web Creator Fears Dysfunctional Future

John Lister's picture

The creator of the World Wide Web (WWW) says it faces a "downward plunge to a dysfunctional future." Sir Tim Berners-Lee said many of its problems were unintended consequences.

Berners-Lee spoke to mark the 30th anniversary of him submitting a proposal to his managers at European science group CERN for a way to organize data. That technology, based on hyperlinked text, became the World Wide Web. In turn, that helped shape the Internet into something used worldwide by ordinary people. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

Writing an open letter, Berners-Lee noted that the web is now "a public square, a library, a doctor's office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more." However, he acknowledged three sources of dysfunction that affect the web today.

Ad Revenue Promotes Clickbait

The first is deliberate damaging activity, such as criminal actions, harassment, and state-sponsored hacking.

The second is what he describes as system design with perverse incentives that work against the interests of users. He specifically cited the way ad revenue models often reward clickbait or people sharing misinformation. Clickbait is defined as content which links to another site or page, using a headline or image (usually). When users click the link, the destination content is usually misleading - hence the term "clickbait".

The third is unintended consequences of "benevolent design." He gave an example of when attempts to foster "greater and wider discussion" online have instead led to an "outraged and polarized tone," which can be compared to how lynch mobs operate.

Business, Politicians and Citizens Must Act

According to Berners-Lee, everyone needs to play their part in rectifying these problems. He says governments must make sure laws are suitable for the modern era, protecting rights and freedoms online. He also says companies must do more to protect privacy and security, rather than simply target short-term profits online.

Most of all, he says ordinary citizens need to hold governments and business to account, using their power to vote or choose online services, while also doing their own part to communicate and debate online in a constructive manner.

He concluded that "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." (Source: webfoundation.org)

What's Your Opinion?

Do you share Berners-Lee's concerns? Who is responsible for tackling the negative traits of the web? Will self-interest and commercialism always outweigh wider concerns about the Internet?

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Jim-in-kansas's picture

Sir Berners-Lee has pointed out what is a daily occurrence into today's world-wide-web.

The problem, as I see it, is that people have become so attached to their mobile device the thought to be "unconnected", even for a short while, creates a panic attack that is very real.
I am able to solve that, for myself, by simply,turning my smart-phone off and working in the yard for awhile and breath....

Easy to say hard to do for most people unfortunately.


russoule's picture

These kind of statements always make me laugh "He concluded that "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."".

Where is this "collective" group he posits? How do I join? Or how do I decline to join? Are there any other "collective" groups that have that same "power"?

Why is it that people can't just be honest and say "If everyone agrees with ME, then things will be fine."?

The World-Wide Web is NOT free. It costs money to keep it going and where will that money come from if not ads or "clickbait" or some other method that does not require a user to pay each time he/she ties into the web?

The other two problems he cites will be there because human nature will always create those who do things illegally or who have very loud opinions. The ONLY way that the polarization can be stopped is to go to a web like China and just prevent people from freely expressing their minds. And I believe that is exactly what Sir Berners-Lee would prefer.