Global action is required to tackle the web’s “downward plunge to a dysfunctional future”, says its inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Sir Tim said people had realised how their data could be “manipulated” after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, he said he felt problems such as data breaches, hacking and misinformation could be tackled. He said, “I’m very concerned about nastiness and misinformation spreading.” But he also said he felt that people were beginning to better understand the risks they faced as web users. He stated that when the Cambridge Analytica thing went down, it was realised that elections can be manipulated using data that they contributed. He also added that in recent years he has increasingly felt that the principles of an open web need to be safeguarded. Sir Tim outlined three specific areas of “dysfunction” that he said were harming the web today:
- Malicious activity such as hacking and harassment
- Problematic system design such as business models that reward clickbait
- Unintended consequences, such as aggressive or polarised discussions
These things could be dealt with, in part, through new laws and systems that limit bad behaviour online. He cited the Contract for the Web project, which he helped to launch late last year. But initiatives like this would require all of society to contribute – from members of the public to business and political leaders.