The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, called for increased regulation of technology companies in an open letter in which he argued it was needed to prevent the Internet from becoming weaponized. His call not only comes on the 29th anniversary of the World Wide Web, but also as this year marks the first time more than half of the global population is using the Internet.
In an open letter published in The Guardian, Berners-Lee said social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook enable conspiracy theories to trend, social tensions to be stoked, criminals to steal data and foreign governments to impact the U.S. election — and without more intervention, they will continue to do so. He said the problem was able to grow because the power is in the hands of a small number of social media platforms, namely Facebook, Google and Twitter. “This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared,” he wrote. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms.”
The leading players can cement their power by purchasing small startups and hiring the top talent. That, in turn, makes it hard to compete, which enables all the bad stuff to propagate. Berners-Lee said Google has 87% of the market for search, while Facebook’s active monthly users now number more than 2.2 billion. Combined, the two account for 60% of the digital advertising. Their concentrated power also hurts innovation, with Berners-Lee predicting the next twenty years will be “far less innovative” if nothing changes. Facebook, Google and Twitter are aware of the problems and have provided ways they think they can correct it, but Berners-Lee argued that ultimately they have been created to make a profit over social good. As a result, he argued more regulation is necessary. “A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions,” he said. Berners-Lee ended his letter calling on business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia to work with his Web Foundation “to tackle the threats to the web’s future.”