The creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee is not happy with the direction social media is taking. He is espousing ‘a complete rethink’ to prevent spying and the spread of ‘sty, mean ideas’ on social media websites. Back in 1989, British computer scientist Berners-Lee invented the Web as a platform on top of the internet, thereby bringing a convergence in information and communication technology (ICT) that has revolutionised the world. While ICT keeps on accelerating and extending its reach into diverse fields, Berners-Lee, celebrated as one of the great minds of the 20th century, now looks back wistfully to say his intention in building the World Wide Web was for the public to ‘do good stuff and share ideas among each other’, as was the case with websites like Wikipedia. The vision was to keep the internet open, free from royalty as well as spying and censorship. But he is dismayed by the Frankenstein-like thing his creation has become, with online spying now posing a great threat to individual privacy, and negative ideas proliferating on social media sites. “How come sty, mean ideas, seem to have travelled more prevalently than constructive ideas on Twitter sometimes? Is that the way it has been designed? Could Twitter be tweaked?” wondered Berners-Lee recently at the Innovate Fince Global Fintech summit in London. Social media may have been used to organise spontaneous public uprisings like the Arab Spring, but it has also been misused in political campaigns like the US presidential elections. Dold Trump backed up his polarising rhetoric with insults on Tweeter, through which he insulted Democrats and Republicans alike, along with the liberal press. Noting instances of public figures being abused online, often by robots programmed to send out negative tweets, Berners-Lee has said there is a need now for ‘a rethink’ of the way society is built on top of the web, a ‘complete change of strategy’ rather. In this context, he mentioned that Facebook and Twitter are already rethinking approaches to their social media platforms to which a large part of humanity are logged in. The dreams about diverse peoples coming together through the Web to share their ideas and better know each other have been dashed; the reality is parochial and rrow-minded social networks that are now known for rabid intolerance to contrary opinions. It is ironical indeed that Berners-Lee, once visiory of a free internet, is now saying: “We actually have to not leave people to make whatever social networks they like.” Concerned over social media’s negative effects, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently said he will tweak his service ‘and upgrade society’. Considering horrendous incidents like gang rapes being streamed live over Facebook, Zuckerberg’s concern has not come a day too soon. Along with this is the problem of all sorts of fake, unsubstantiated news being purveyed over such social networks. It remains to be seen whether Zuckerberg is willing to tweak his platform radically to cut out abuses, or will be satisfied with only a few cosmetic changes. In particular, observers have questioned whether he will be willing to dilute his 400 billion dollar power base by changing an algorithm which gathers various information about users relating to their income, credit position, net worth, home’s value, their shopping habits and what not — which in turn unleash a gaggle of companies to post ads tailored to appeal to the user. As for Twitter, which can make anyone a jourlist or a publisher, its negative aspect has become more pronounced as users can pour out any content without fear. All such misuse is merely encouraging many governments to go for their own digital surveillance and control agendas. Unless Web-based entities, particularly social networks, take their responsibility for a cleaner, more positive Web seriously, reactiory governments will soon have their excuses to clamp down.
Rethinking the Web