Father of the Web Confronts His Creation in the Era of Fake News

by Brad Stone, Bloomberg

In an interview, World Wide Web Consortium founder (and 2016 A.M. Turing Award recipient) Sir Tim Berners-Lee discusses how his perspective of the Web has changed since its inception, especially with it being widely used to spread misinformation.

The World Wide Web is 28 years old. But these days it often appears to have the growing pains of a teenager. There’s the scourge of fake news, growing pockets of censorship around the world, the fiery debate over net neutrality and more.

When teens get into trouble, you typically talk to the parents. As it happens, I had the opportunity last week to interview Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist who was working for the European research organization CERN back in 1989 when he proposed the idea of using a tool called a web browser to visit distinct pages on the internet, each with an individual domain name and connected via a network of hyperlinks.

Berners-Lee says the Web’s complexity is now comparable to the human brain’s, which demands the technology sector follow a multidisciplinary strategy to “look out for unintended consequences” and study how services affect the world. He also notes Google and other Web companies bear some responsibility for incentivizing fake news purveyors by developing advertising systems for commercial reasons without considering the more malevolent implications.

Another thing weighing on Berners-Lee’s mind is net neutrality. The Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission, lead by Ajit Pai, has pledged to throw out Obama-era rules mandating that all content on the internet must be treated equally by telcos. Berners-Lee is heading to Washington soon to lobby and protest against the change and said that America’s tech leadership is at stake if we don’t preserve the separation between content creators and telecommunication companies.

In addition, Berners-Lee says there is “no magic recipe that the Internet will be able to solve censorship, so censorship is something we have to protest against.” He also cites the importance of people being able to control their own data, contending that companies’ perception of data as a business asset is dangerous. “It’s becoming toxic,” Berners-Lee warns. Read the interview.

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