Berners-Lee Warns on Youth Digital Divide
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, cautioned of a growing digital divide which had widened during the current COVID-19 pandemic. He has urged technology companies to respect user rights with the products they create.
In a letter published on the 32nd anniversary of the formation of the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith, co-founder of the pair’s Web Foundation organisation, said a third of the world’s young people had no internet access at all and only the top third of under-25s had a home internet connection, citing UNICEF. This, the pair said, had left 2.2 billion young people without the stable access they need to learn online, which had helped so many continue their education during the pandemic.
They also raised concerns about abuse, misinformation and dangerous content when young people do have access. “The consequences of this exclusion affects everyone,” they wrote. “How many brilliant young minds fall on the wrong side of the digital divide? How many voices, would-be leaders are being silenced by toxic internet?” Berners-Lee called on governments and leaders to “rapidly scale investment” to ensure everyone, everywhere had a meaningful internet connection.
The duo also took aim at technology companies, stating the development and design of certain products and services failed to make users’ rights and wellbeing a top priority. It continued to state technology companies must understand the needs of young people, while governments also needed to pass effective laws that govern technology and hold companies to account. The Web Foundation said it would establish a new initiative designed to tackle online gender-based violence against women, bringing together tech companies and women’s rights groups to shape policy.