We tend to take the World Wide Web for granted. We use it to look up professional, scholarly, educational and day-to-day information, communicate with friends and colleagues, do shopping, book travel, plan vacations, download videos and music, play games, and more. The Web is an unprecedented global platform for altruism – sharing freely – as exemplified by the Wikipedia. Nobody knows and appreciates this more than librarians. Sharing information and knowledge is at the core of what we do.
We have come to expect that our access to the Web is free, that we all have equal access to it, and that we can use it without being misinformed, defrauded, blackmailed or worse. But there is widespread abuse of the Web. Governments deny or restrict access. Companies such as internet service providers may try to charge fees for rapid access to more desirable content, and various interest groups and individuals post false, abusive, and offensive content.
The Web, with its great potential for equality, education, development and democracy, is in danger of being subverted.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British engineer and computer scientist who is credited with inventing the World Wide Web, and who is the co-founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, has launched a global action plan to protect the Web from misuse and to ensure that it functions as “a force for good” that can be accessed freely and safely by all people all the time. As part of the action plan, a Contract for the Web has been drawn up with inputs from many experts and representatives of many sectors, including the public.
The Contract for the Web sets out concrete actions that can be taken by governments, companies, and individual citizens. It groups these under nine fundamental principles:
Governments are called upon (1) to ensure that everyone can connect to the internet, (2) keep all of the internet available, all of the time, and to (3) respect and protect people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights.
Companies are called upon to (4) make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone, (5) respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust, and (6) develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.
Citizens are called upon to (7) be creators and collaborators on the Web, (8) build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity, and (9) fight for the web.
In the 32-page Contract for the Web document, each of these principles is elaborated in the form of commitments by the three parties. For example, Principle 8:
Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity, so that everyone feels safe and welcome online:
By working towards a more inclusive Web:
- Adopting best practices on civil discourse online and educating the next generation on these matters.
- Committing to amplify the messages of systematically excluded groups, and standing up for them when they are being targeted or abused.
- Taking steps to protect their privacy and security, and that of others, by choosing products and services thoughtfully, and articulating privacy preferences accordingly.
- Refraining from participating in the non-consensual dissemination of intimate information that breach privacy and trust.
The World Wide Web Foundation has issued a call for everyone, organisations and individuals, to endorse the contract. I’m not one for online petitions and the like, but this is one I have had no qualms about signing up for, and I encourage all members of the LIS community to sign up too.