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Friday 15 March 2019

Filosophy on Friday: What is the web becoming?
Tim Berners-Lee in 1994

A few days ago (on March 12th) the World Wide Web Foundation launched a what's next #ForTheWeb campaign to mark the 30 year anniversary of the web. It is essentially a link to the campaign for a Contract for the Web.

Sadly, I can't help but see it as an optimistic, but ultimately futile gesture for something that has gone so far down one style of being that only a total restart could bring it back to what Berners-Lee and others had originally hoped that the Web would be for.

This isn't to say that some of the fundamental principles behind the formation of the World Wide Web are no longer present, indeed, most are, but it is just that they have become so corrupted, so toxic, that simply existing 'online' is a constant challenge and can only really be achieved by some effort to ignore or fight-back against all the negative influences that permeate throughout.

The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available.

It has brought people together alright. Terrorists, racists, fascists, religious fundamentalists, child pornographers, scammers, organised crime gangs, and many other forms of extremists and criminals can freely meet online and exchange their ideas, they are free to isolate themselves within their ideological echo chambers and further radicalise themselves without any pressure to analyse their thoughts or consider their actions, they are free to manipulate online resources to exploit, harass, and steal from others.

Communication, we are told, is quicker and easier than ever, but it is also more shallow, emotional, and duplicitous than ever before. After all it is easier to lie when you can't see or hear another human and often you will never face any repercussions for what you say, no matter how vile or blatantly false your words are. When there are so many statements being constantly made the only way to be noticed to say something so incendiary, so hideous, so dramatic, that people simply have to pay attention.

Although information is widely available, access is not always free. To gain access might mean something as simple as spending your time watching an advert, or scrolling through adverts, or signing up to receiving adverts, in order to gain access. Or, more straightforwardly, if you want some information that has actually taken some effort, some work, then you will meet a pay wall, "and why not?" All us good capitalists say. However, the web is a flood of available information, most of it promoting, directly or indirectly, some other ideology. Truth is only of secondary importance (if that) to many of the suppliers of this information.

Knowledge is not freely available if the people accessing the information do not have the skills to analyse and discern between what is false and what is a 'sales technique'. Between what is objective fact and what is emotional supposition.

Watching and reading the general reaction to horrible events online is possibly the best way to obtain an entirely negative and cynical view of the Web, I hold my hands up to this, as I know that there are many good people who work tirelessly to promote positive projects for the public good on the Web and they do so without consideration to financial benefit. Those people, however, are easily imitated and replaced by corporate copies who take their ideas and make them a money making scheme instead. Watch, for example, the #MeToo movement become an advertising and film/entertainment promotional technique, see the power of an anti-abuse campaign reduced to corporate promotion.

I've spent today looking at; the alt-right rubbing their hands with glee on the Breitbart News Website comments section, posting videos of Hitler speeches ("it's alright once you get past the 3rd Reich stuff"), blaming the Left, blaming Muslims, suggesting a hoax or 'false flag' operation, and countless other lies and defamations (also, a link to this page was originally posted by the POTUS), then dredging through Twitter where people are all to happy to make whatever personal capital out of a horrific terrorist attack that they can, to twist whatever part of the narrative best suits their particular worldview and fail to consider the actual lives lost and the evil behind the motive.

Sometimes it is difficult to see the goodness in others and the Web only makes this harder to do by distancing and flattening what a person is into merely a hyperbolic sound bite. Let's make the attempt to treat people as complex dynamic beings and as deserving of fair treatment (until proven otherwise) as it states here:

Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.