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The Guy Who Invented The Web Is Worried About The 'Wildfire Spread' Of Fake News

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13/03/2017 9:49 AM AEDT | Updated 13/03/2017 11:08 AM AEDT
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Computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee believes fake news is one of the three big threats to the Internet's future.

The man who invented the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is worried about fake news -- so much so, that he's labelled it one of the three greatest challenges for the Web's future.

Since publishing his original proposal for the World Wide Web exactly 28 years ago, Berners-Lee has been a constant advocate for the Web remaining an open, free resource available to everyone.

Now, he's saying that the Web's greatest success could also prove to be its downfall: it's simply too easy for information -- even fake information -- to spread.

"Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines," he wrote in a blog published on his organisation's website.

The problem, according to Berners-Lee, is two-fold. Even though the Internet provides more content than ever, people are accessing it from just a few social media channels and search engines. This puts a lot of power in the hands of a few.

Secondly, these websites are harvesting more and more of our personal data, which allows them to target content specifically for each individual.

"The net result is that these sites show us content they think we'll click on -- meaning that misinformation, or 'fake news', which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases can spread like wildfire," Berners-Lee wrote on his blog.

"Through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain."

This means that a political campaign can send out completely different, potentially conflicting, agendas to different constituents, based on what they think will make them vote for them.

We've already seen the impact this can have during election campaigns.

So what is the answer?

Berners-Lee says there is no quick fix, but he does have a few ideas.

He suggests introducing 'data pods', a new technology allowing individuals to store information securely and only give websites, such as Facebook, access to it when they need it -- a bit like a virtual safe.

The computer scientist also wants online political campaigns regulated in the same way as they are on television and radio, greater transparency around the algorithms used to collect personal data and push information out to the public, and for gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to put more checks and balances on what they send viral.

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