World Wide Web inventor slams ‘brazen’ Tory misinformation campaign

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World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has slammed the Conservative Party’s recent move to rename its Twitter account to make it look like an official fact-checker.

“Don’t trust people who do that”

Speaking about the Conservatives’ move, Berners-Lee told the BBC:

That was really brazen… It was unbelievable they would do that.

He called the move “impersonation”, saying:

Don’t do that. Don’t trust people who do that. …

What the Conservative Party has done is obviously a no no. That’s amazingly blatant.

He also criticised Facebook over targeted political ads, asking company founder Mark Zuckerberg to stop allowing them, especially before elections. As he insisted:

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It’s not fair to risk democracy by allowing all these very subtle manipulations with targeted ads which promote completely false ideas. They do it just before the election, and then disappear.

Disinformation is a key threat to the web

Launching his foundation’s Contract for the Web on Monday, the British computer scientist warned that the web is at a “tipping point” as threats such as disinformation and privacy invasions prevail online. And laws and regulations, he said, must be rethought in order to prevent the web from becoming “darker” for future generations. He said:

Never before has the web’s power for good been under more threat

Berners-Lee celebrated the 30th anniversary of his invention this year. He stressed that a deep digital divide threatens to be “one of the greatest sources of inequality in our world”. And citizens, governments and companies, he added, should work collectively to close that divide quickly:

Just as more people come online, there are some in power who want to stop people communicating with each other and want to divide humanity.

When governments successfully shut down access to the web, they violate people’s fundamental rights to communicate, organise and debate.

“Halt the spread of misinformation”

Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation has put together a Contract for the Web, calling on governments, companies and the public to ensure the web is a safe, free and open platform for all.

The commitment sets out nine key principles. And it has already received the backing of over 160 organisations, including Google and Facebook.

During his speech, Berners-Lee also took aim at technology companies which fail to halt the spread of misinformation on their platforms, saying lack of action to address such issues makes the world “more polarised, more dysfunctional, and it also undermines our trust in information, sows division and undermines democracy”:

The web is at a tipping point – if it is to be a force for the good, we must act now. …

If we fail to tackle the threats that we face, we risk a digital dystopia, we cannot leave the next generation a web and a world that is darker than the one we have today.

The web’s challenges are complex and can’t be solved by any one party – we need to rethink laws, regulations and technology design, and human behaviour, that means everyone, governments, companies, civil society and citizens must co-operate in this fight for the future.

Featured image and additional reporting via Press Association

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