Web’s inventor expresses apprehension

March 15, 2019
by Mark Ollig

Tim Berners-Lee has been busy this week, attending events celebrating his 30-year-old invention – the World Wide Web.

Recently, he likened the web to a “public square, a library, a shop, a school, a doctor’s office, a bank, and so much more.”

“While the web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created an opportunity for scammers, giving a voice to those who spread hatred, and make all kinds of crime easier to commit,” said Berners-Lee.

He has concerns about what is happening to his web; here are three:

1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behavior, and online harassment.

2. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.

3. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarized tone and quality of online discourse.

Berners-Lee acknowledges the web has created many new opportunities, including giving people a platform where their ideas and comments for improving society or a technical process can be easily heard by millions.

Unfortunately, the web has also become a venue for those who use it to spread negativity and online antipathy on a variety of subjects.

Many of us witness this negativity every day on social media.

We have seen online internet trolls who start arguments. They seem to be, for one reason or another, on the internet only to harass, distract, and upset people. They propagate their animosity with a constant barrage of negative messages. These trolls usually have pictureless profiles and anonymous or made-up names.

Most online trolls (many operate in wolf-like packs) seem to get some kind of kick out of triggering other online users’ emotions by posting negative replies and comments, or by continuously forcing their online agenda and getting a kick from the frustration in other people’s responses.

Whenever I come across these malicious online trolls in social networks, I immediately block them from my timeline so I don’t see them. I don’t play their game. It’s not worth getting stressed out, which is precisely the reaction they are seeking. Don’t give them the satisfaction; mostly, don’t let them stress you out.

Berners-Lee emphasized governments need to interpret laws and regulations for the digital age we are living in, which include protecting online individual user’s rights.

People who make up the “Web Champions” take action whenever the interests of the online public are threatened.

These Web Champions, according to Berners-Lee, can be civil servants and elected officials.

You and I can be Web Champions, too.

Examples of actions taken by Web Champions around the world include:

1. Holding governments responsible for ensuring a free and open internet/web.

2. Making sure the public has affordable access to the internet/web.

3. Preventing governments from censoring political and social content over the web.

4. Exposing government censorship of the web, and revealing the role it plays in threatening citizens’ access to it.

5. Alleviating the public’s anxiety about the web; education about its benefits is needed.

Security remains the web’s most significant threat; companies and individuals are always vulnerable to privacy and security risks.

Companies on the web need to test and update their safeguards used to protect the data entrusted to them by their customers. Secure online business practices always need to be encouraged.

Accountability needs to be enforced by online websites – whether governmental, public, or private – storing personal information.

Courses are available to minimize network security threats, along with countermeasures to protect against security hackers who attempt to infiltrate, intentionally breach security, and disrupt key online networks, such national banking systems, governmental agencies, and public utility companies. Popular social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, have had their security breached and websites rendered inaccessible.

The National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center provides information and many resources regarding cybersecurity at https://ics-cert.us-cert.gov.

“Citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make, and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart,” Berners-Lee said March 11.

Berners-Lee hopes everyone participating on the web will, in some way, contribute to its equality, opportunity, and creativity.

“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,” stated Berners-Lee.

Let’s hope the web of the future can become a more civilized venue for holding open discussions and opinions without the social media online troll attacks, fear of data theft, or website disturbances caused by devious computer hackers.

The Web Foundation is working with governments, companies, and citizens in building a brand-new “Contract for the Web.” Learn more about this project at https://webfoundation.org.

Half of the world is online and using the web – the other half is still offline without web access.

Berners-Lee’s vision 30 years ago was to have a free and open web for everyone.

Hopefully, those around the world without internet/web access won’t have to wait 30 more years to join the World Wide Web.

Be sure to visit my weblog at https://bitscolumn.blogspot.com.

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