Wednesday 7 November 2018 9:01 am

DEBATE: Is Tim Berners-Lee right that we need to save the web from abuse?

Is Tim Berners-Lee right that we need to save the web from abuse?

Sven Hughes, chief executive and founder of Verbalisation and Global Influence, says YES.

When went live in 1991, it was the address of the world’s first ever website and web server. Sir Tim Berners-Lee was the man to create that website, and in doing so he launched a digital revolution in communication.

For all the good that the advent of the internet has done to transform our lives since then, people have harnessed it for their own purposes – whether that be for criminal activity, immense commercial gain, or the distribution of fake news to dictate how countries are governed. Today, 1.5bn people live in countries with no comprehensive law on personal data protection, leaving them particularly vulnerable.

If we want to save the internet, regulation and corporate responsibility need to be embedded in our online practices as these tools take over all aspects of our lives.

Unless all tech giants sign up to this contract and change their behaviour by ensuring that corporate responsibility becomes a genuine part of their culture, we will continue to be manipulated – to the detriment of the personal freedoms that the web first sought to protect.

Jess Butcher MBE, tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Tick and Blippar, says NO.

There’s a lot in Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s charter that sounds sensible in theory. But any attempt at implementation would ultimately lead to censorship by paternalistic governments or big businesses – which are becoming increasingly illiberal in their “liberalism”.

Yes, the internet can bring out the worst in people, and Berners-Lee rightly highlights online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, and fake news – to which I’d also add the growth of narcissistic social habits. But free speech is the most fundamental democratic right.

For every malicious online comment, there are as many that shine light and add valuable depth to ideological debate in a way that is no longer possible within the mainstream media.

It is not the internet’s job (or any gate-keeper’s) to allow us to live “safely and without fear”. Societal progress will always be frightening to some and result in unpleasant side effects.

We need to teach our youth the art of nuanced debate and trust that there are enough sane, empathetic, and responsible people daring to raise their voices on the free-speech internet.


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