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Web Creator Concerned Over Internet Spread Of Disinformation

September 15, 2008

World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee believes a new system needs to be implemented to help separate Internet fact from fiction.

Speaking with BBC News, Sir Tim expressed concern about the way the Internet has fueled the spread of inaccurate information.

Sir Tim made his comments shortly before the unveiling of his World Wide Web Foundation, which aims to improve the web’s global accessibility. The foundation will also examine ways to help users verify the reliability and trustworthiness of Web sites.

Sir Tim’s discussion with BBC coincided with the landmark experiment at CERN, where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was turned on for the first time last week. Sir Tim said rumors on the Web that flicking the switch on the LHC could create a Black Hole that could swallow up the Earth were particularly worrisome to him.

The spread of rumors that the MMR vaccine was harmful to children also caused him concern, he said.

He advocates the need for a new system that would give Web sites a label for trustworthiness once they had been proved reliable sources of information.

“On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable,” he told BBC News.

“A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging.”

Sir Tim and his colleagues at the World Wide Web consortium examined simple ways of marking Web sites, but concluded that a wide variety of different mechanisms were required.

“I’m not a fan of giving a website a simple number like an IQ rating because like people they can vary in all kinds of different ways,” he said.

“So I’d be interested in different organizations labeling websites in different ways”.

Speaking of his World Wide Web Foundation, which hopes to make it easier for people to get online, Sir Tim said that only 20% of the world’s population currently has access to the web.

In addition to improving web access, Sir Tim’s World Wide Web Foundation will also explore ways to make the web more mobile-phone friendly.  Improvements in this area would likely increase accessibility in areas such as Africa and other poor regions, where mobile phones are ubiquitous but computers are rare.

The Foundation will also look at potential ways to increase the web’s benefits for those who are unable to read or write.

“We’re talking about the evolution of the web,” he said.

“Perhaps by using gestures or pointing. When something is such a creative medium as the web, the limits to it are our imagination”.

Sir Tim’s foundation also plans to examine concerns that the web has become less democratic, and that its use has been taken over by the interests of large corporations.

“I think that question is very important and may be settled in the next few years,” Sir Tim said.

“One of the things I always remain concerned about is that that medium remains neutral.”

“It’s not just where I go to decide where to buy my shoes which is the commercial incentive – it’s where I go to decide who I’m going to trust to vote.”

“It’s where I go maybe to decide what sort of religion I’m going to belong to or not belong to; it’s where I go to decide what is actual scientific truth – what I’m actually going to go along with and what is bunkum”.

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