Today, 30 years after my original proposal for an information management system, half the world uses the Internet. It is a time to celebrate how far we have come, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have to go yet.
The web has become a public square, a library, a doctor's office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank and many other things. Naturally, with each new feature and each new website, the division between those who use the Internet and those who do not increase makes it all the more essential that everyone has access to the Internet.
And although the Internet has created opportunities, it has given voice to marginalized groups and facilitated our daily lives, it has also spawned opportunities for fraudsters, it has given voice to those who spread hatred and facilitated the commission of all kinds of crimes.
With the backdrop of the news about the misuse of the Internet, it is understandable that many people are afraid and not sure that the Network is really good. But considering how much has changed in the last 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the Internet, as we know it, can not be changed for the better in the next 30 years. If we give up creating a better network, the Red will not have failed us, but we will have failed to the Network. To address any problem, we must define it clearly. In general, I think there are three causes of dysfunctions that affect the current web:
- Deliberate and malicious intentions, such as hacking and cyber attacks supported by States, criminal behavior and harassment on the Internet.
- The design of a system that creates perverse incentives in which the user is sacrificed, such as advertising-based revenue models that commercially reward cyberbullying and viral dissemination of misinformation.
- The unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the enraged and polarized tone and the quality of conversations on the Internet.
"You can not blame a government, a social network or the human mentality, simplistic discourses run the risk of exhausting our energy while we treat the symptoms of these problems instead of focusing on their causes"
Although it is impossible to completely eliminate the first category, we can create laws and codes to minimize that behavior, as we have always done outside the Internet. The second category requires that we redesign the systems in a way that changes the incentives. And the last category requires research to understand current systems and create possible new models or modify the ones we already have.
You can not simply blame a government, a social network or the human mentality. Simplistic discourses run the risk of exhausting our energy as we treat the symptoms of these problems instead of focusing on their causes. To do it well, we have to unite as a global Internet community.
At key moments, previous generations came together to work together for a better future. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, different groups of people have been able to agree on some essential principles. With Maritime Law and the Outer Space Treaty, we have preserved new frontiers for the common good. And now, too, as the Internet modifies our world, we have a responsibility to make sure that it is recognized as a human right and built for the benefit of all. This is the reason why the Web Foundation work with governments, companies and citizens to create a new Contract for the Network.
This contract was presented at the Web Summit in Lisbon, which brought together a group of people who agree that there is a need to establish clear rules, laws and criteria on which the Network is based. Those that support it adopt its basic principles , and together we elaborate the specific commitments in each area. No group should do it alone, and all contributions are welcome. Governments, companies and citizens make their contribution, and our goal is to achieve results this year.
"Citizens must demand that companies and governments be accountable for the commitments they make and that both respect the Internet as a global community whose base is citizens"
Governments must adapt laws and regulations to the digital era. They must ensure that markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have the responsibility to protect the rights and freedoms of people on the Internet. We need advocates from the Open Network within governments, civil servants and elected authorities to take action when the interests of the private sector threaten the general interest and rise in their favor to protect the Open Network.
Companies have to do more to ensure that their search for short-term benefits is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific data or public safety. Platforms and products should be designed with privacy, diversity and security in mind. This year, we have observed how several employees of technology companies have rebelled and demanded better business practices. We have to foster that mentality.
And the most important thing is that citizens must demand that companies and governments hold accountable for the commitments they make and that both respect the Internet as a global community based on citizens. If we do not choose politicians to defend a free and open network, if we do not do our part to encourage healthy conversations on the Internet and if we continue to give our consent without demanding that our data rights be respected, we are breaching our responsibility to make our governments give priority to these issues.
The struggle for the Net is one of the most important causes of our time. Today, half the world uses the Internet. It is more urgent than ever to ensure that the other half is not left behind and that everyone contributes to creating a Network that promotes equality, opportunities and creativity.
The Contract for the Network should not be a list of temporary solutions, but a process that indicates a change in the way we understand our relationship with our digital community. It should be clear enough to be a guide on our way of proceeding, but also flexible enough to adapt to the rapidity of the change in technology. It is our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.
The Network is for everyone, and together we have the power to change it. It will not be easy. But if we dream a little and work hard, we can get the Network we want.
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