30 years after its birth, can the World Wide Web be saved?

From American Voices By Rachel Marsden

PARIS - It was 30 years ago this month that British Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee conceived the idea for an information-management system of sites and links, now known as the World Wide Web. Teoretically, it was supposed to make us all smarter -a great hope for the future of education and knowledge for all of humanity.

Fast-forward three decades. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes filed a defamation lawsuit this week against the social media website Twitter, a Republican strategist and two Twitter accounts. One of those accounts is "devinnunesmom" (presumably not Nunes' actual mother). According to the lawsuit: "In her endless garrage of tweets, Devin Nunes' Mom maliciously attacked every aspect of Nues' character, honesty, integrity, ethics and fitness to ferform his duties as a United States Congressman."

Originally intended as a means of sharing knowledge and information worldwide, the web has instead become the world's leading source of duckface selfies and cat videos. Ideally, it should have democratized knowledge by making it available to anyone seeking it. Instead, it's forsterin an ever-growing rift between those of us who use the web as a tool and those who can't help but succumb to its temptations.

It's doubtful Berners-Lee could have imagined 30 years ago that his invention, initially meant to inform people, would just end up feeding their most narcissisti tendencies. But the lowest common denominator has prevailed. Posting selfies and 280-character thought droppings on social media is a lot less labor-intensive than producing something thoughtful and well-considered.

Even those who govern us seem more interested in scoring headlines with outrageous statements on social media than in doing any deep research or thinking. Then, they have the nerve to complain about "fake news" when they're at least partly responsible for propagating a lack of depth, critical thought and substance, choosing instead to peddle shallow and self-serving partisan sloganeering.

Despite his lawsuit, Nunes himself has dismissed complex issues as "fake news" and has issued "tinfoil hat alerts" on Twiter. He has also used the platform to direct followers to overt sources of partisan propaganda. Nunes has contributed to the very problem that he's now complaining about by treating complex issues like sideshow curiosities. These safe spaces discourage independent thought.

If governments all over the world are now seeking to address online "fake news," it's because too many of us either lost or never developed the ability to discern between nonsense and truth on the web. Many of the same legislatorspromoting internet restrictions are guilty of fostering a lack of critial thought through their own online propaganda peddling. And now they're trying to legislate against stupidity because they nolonger believe that average citizens can be trusted to make up their own minds.

In an open letter reflection on the 30th anniversary of the web, Berners-Lee lamented the "viral spread of misinformation" and "the outraged and polarized tone and quality of online discourse." He wants governments and companies to address these issues.

The problem with this approach is that governments and companies aren't black boxes - they're full of people who would be tasked with making decisions for us. Why should we trust them?

It's hard to say where the web will be in another 30 years, but those who find themselves slaves to it will fall increasingly behind thos who refulse to fall prey to the lack of critical thought that it can promote

Published in Knoxville News Sentinel March 24, 2019.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris.




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