Why the Web Needs More Regulation, Not Less


The inventor of the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee, called on Monday for powerful internet platforms and social media companies to be regulated to prevent the internet from being "weaponized at scale".

This still leaves a gaping "digital divide" that exacerbates existing inequalities: you are more likely to be offline if you are female, poor, or live in a rural area or a low-income country. While the United Nations has declared internet access as a human right, mobile internet still isn't affordable in many developing countries which deprives many off the opportunities to learn and access valuable services.

However, there are still many people without Internet access, and that is causing a divide between those that do have Internet, Berners-Lee explained. "This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared", wrote Berners-Lee.

Instead of hosting their own platform, web users have clustered around a few centralised systems.

In his letter, Sir Berners-Lee says the internet we have today is filled with misinformation, political advertising, and loss of control over personal data.

"What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms", said the 62-year-old British computer scientist. "If we do not invest seriously in closing this gap, the last billion will not be connected until 2042". In his post, he said a "legal or regulatory framework" may be needed to improve accountability, manage social objectives and ease the tensions associated with the modern web. "That's an entire generation left behind", Berners-Lee warned. However, in many places, getting online is prohibitively expensive - the cost of 1GB of mobile broadband in Malawi is more than 20 per cent of the average monthly income.

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Mr Berners-Lee has always maintained that his creation was a reflection of humanity - the good, the bad and the ugly.

"These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors", he continues.

This monopoly of power had made it possible to weaponise the web, he continued, with fake social media accounts stoking social tensions and potentially interfering in democratic elections.

He's also anxious about the spread of misinformation, data theft, fake Facebook and Twitter accounts created to stoke social tensions and sway public opinion ahead of political elections. The second myth is the idea that it's "too late now" for existing platforms to change their revenue model.

Berners-Lee called on the world of web users to design a web that creates a constructive and supportive environment.

"Let's assemble the brightest minds from business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia to tackle the threats to the web's future", he urged.