It’s interesting how opinions can be shaped from a simple title and a seemingly well-meaning article. The Guardian ran a headline yesterday saying Tim Berners-Lee calls for tighter regulation of online political advertising. The article was carefully framed so as to pointedly remark on Trump’s victory via the influence of “fake news”. They kindly included the link to the article, hoping you, the dope, wouldn’t bother reading it. Of course, if you actually clicked on the link to the article, you’d find the “regulation” call was a possibly-but-not-really implied suggestion buried under the heading Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding. And there was no mention of political elections. None. Big difference. No misquotes, just misrepresentation. But on that topic…
From what he says, when Berners-Lee came up with the idea, “[he] imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.” Having nothing to compare it to, he may have been naively (in a good way) imagining all the wonderful things you could do with it. Indeed, the world has been blessed by it.
Liberty comes with a price, however, and that includes enabling anyone – anyone – to say anything they want. We want to know everyone’s opinion, but some people are just as well inclined to cuss, swear, and… lie. Most geeks call for an open internet (I don’t know any who don’t), and admittedly many don’t bother guarding their mouths, but for many people, the web is the only place they feel free to speak. Regulating any part of it would only lead down a slippery slope that would result in everything being regulated and manipulation by law enforcement that could easily turn a comment into a jail-worthy remark. (It follows a general principle: If humans can do it, they will.)
Now, I don’t believe Berners-Lee is suggesting internet regulation, contrary to what is proposed in the headline of the Guardian. I believe he would be more inclined to support the idea that those who recognize themselves as political organizations or have non-profit status by being political organizations should be made more transparent. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but even though Berners-Lee hardly says anything about the topic, his attitude can be inferred based on the numerous other things he has written (and I’ve read some of those).
The solution to the wild-west problem of the web, like the solution to any societal problem, is the mindset of people. First, if people have a good moral and ethical compass, they guide themselves, and you don’t need the regulation. Second, the problem of people being flooded with lies from single sources is, in part, self-imposed. People believe anything that reinforces their point of view, and while I’d like to think smart people look for alternatives, I suspect most tend to congregate in like-minded hives too. If people to get off Facebook/Google/Twitter and meet the rest of the internet, they learn so much more than what those targeted ads are going to serve up. But they also end up encountering the true, uglier, unfiltered side. People like their walled gardens, even if the caretakers of those gardens lie to them. It seems the most trustworthy individual – if they even have the truth you’re looking for – is the guy with nothing to gain and nothing to lose whether or not you take his words at face value.
People having an agenda opposed to ours isn’t all that bad. We can still learn from them. Going to the extent of lying to us or misrepresenting others for the sake of promoting their agenda just shows lack of integrity on their part. But rather than complain about it or suggest something silly like regulation, we just need to become smarter internet surfers.
What’s my point in writing this article? X) Ok, so maybe I’m filling airtime, but I did find it pretty funny – if not just bizarre – that Berners-Lee was using the Trump catch-phrase, “fake news”, and a writer at the Guardian so readily satisfied that label. Makes for a good case-in-point.