The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has unveiled plans to crackdown on fake news and “unethical” political advertising. In an open letter on the web’s 28th anniversary, he said new internet trends have become alarming in the last year. Sir Tim, 61, said misuse of data has created a “chilling effect on free speech” and warned of “internet blind spots” that are corrupting democracy. One problem, he wrote, is that most people find their news and information through a “handful” of social media sites and search engines, which are paid whenever someone clicks a link. “The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on - meaning that misinformation, or fake news, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases, can spread like wildfire,” he added.
And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Companies and governments are using widespread data collection to “trample on our rights”, leading to bloggers being arrested and killed by repressive regimes, Sir Tim said. “But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone all the time is simply going too far,” he wrote. “It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, such as sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.” Sir Tim also criticised politicians for targeting voters using sophisticated algorithms to tailor messages to ones they will approve of.