30 years on, Internet founder Tim Berners-Lee laments spread of hatred on the web

Tim Berners-Lee is convinced the online population will continue to grow, but says accessibility issues continue to beset much of the world.

Berners-Lee implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet.
Berners-Lee implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet. (AP)

Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who founded the Internet in 1989, says there is much to celebrate as half the world has since gone online, but also laments its misuse to spread hatred and commit crime.

Berners-Lee, 63, wrote an open letter on Tuesday, the 30th anniversary of the day he proposed an information management system on March 11, 1989, which led to hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and eventually the Internet.

Knighted in 2004, he writes, "The web has become a public square, a library, a doctor's office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more."

"And while the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit."

He identifies three sources dysfunction: Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment; system design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.

Thirdly, the unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.

He writes, "While the first category is impossible to eradicate completely, we can create both laws and code to minimize this behaviour, just as we have always done offline. The second category requires us to redesign systems in a way that change incentives".

"And the final category calls for research to understand existing systems and model possible new ones or tweak those we already have", calling for global action to tackle what he calls the Internet's "downward plunge to a dysfunctional future."

Calling on governments to translate laws and regulations for the digital age, Berners-Lee writes that digital companies must do more to ensure their pursuit of short-term profit is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety.

"The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time. Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity."

"The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won't be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want," he adds.