Warning sounded on web's future
The internet needs a way to help people separate rumour from real science, says the creator of the World Wide Web.
Talking to BBC News Sir Tim Berners-Lee said he was increasingly worried about the way the web has been used to spread disinformation.
Sir Tim was speaking in advance of an announcement about a Foundation he has helped create that he hopes will improve the World Wide Web.
Sir Tim talked to the BBC in the week in which Cern, where he did his pioneering work on the web, turned on the Large Hadron Collider for the first time.
The use of the web to spread fears that flicking the switch on the LHC could create a Black Hole that could swallow up the Earth particularly concerned him, he said. In a similar vein was the spread of rumours that the MMR vaccine given to children in Britain was harmful.
Sir Tim told BBC News that there needed to be new systems that would give websites a label for trustworthiness once they had been proved reliable sources.
"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 said. "A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging."
Sir Tim and colleagues at the World Wide Web consortium had looked at simple ways of branding websites - but concluded that a whole variety of different mechanisms was needed.
"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 organisations labelling websites in different ways".
Sir Tim spoke to the BBC to publicise the launch of his World Wide Web Foundation which aims to improve the web's accessibility.
Alongside this role it will aim to make it easier for people to get online. Currently only 20% of the world's population have access to the web
"Has it been designed by the West for the West?" asked Sir Tim.
"Has it been designed for the executive and the teenager in the modern city with a smart phone in their pocket? If you are in a rural community do you need a different kind of web with different kinds of facilities?"
The Web Foundation will also explore ways to make the web more mobile-phone friendly. That would increase its use in Africa and other poor parts of the world where there are few computers but plenty of handsets.
The Foundation will also look at how the benefits of the web can be taken to those who cannot 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".
The Foundation will also look at concerns that the web has become less democratic, and its use influenced too much by large corporations and vested interests.
"I think that question is very important and may be settled in the next few years," said Sir Tim.
"One of the things I always remain concerned about is that that medium remains neutral," he said.
"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," he said.
"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".
By Pallab Ghosh
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