Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, has decided that information on the internet can be wrong, and the solution is to rate websites on whether they are credible or not.
On face value the idea has some appeal. Berners-Lee notes that rumors of a black hole resulting from the Large Hadron Collider concerned him, and in an interesting underhanded attack on Christianity, said that “On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable.” There are many wrong things on the internet, and the ability to filter those, to know which is true or credible would appeal to many.
And yet, what is truth? Millions of people supporting the McCain-Palin ticket in the United States believe that the earth is 4000 years old and dinosaurs and men existed side-by-side. Sarah Palin advocates that this be taught in schools. There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and direct links between Al Qaeda and Hussein, or so the US Government told the world. If you watch political commercials, you’d believe that Barack Obama teaches sex ed to 6 year olds, and is anti-immigration.
Who decides the truth?
Is not the very nature of the internet, a free platform for most, a conduit that allows the truth to shine when all around us is lies? Do not internet users in China find ways of bypassing the national firewall so they to can find the truth. Do not those of us in free countries benefit from receiving news that isn’t filtered and controlled by the corporate media elite? Is not this very freedom protection against wrongdoing?
Any attempt at grading internet content based on truth would be the start of a slippery slope towards global totalitarianism. We may not like everything on the internet, but as Robert Houghwout Jackson, US Supreme Court Judge and Chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials said: “The price of freedom of religion, or of speech, or of the press, is that we must put up with a good deal of rubbish.”
Or consider John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.
As much as I’m sure Tim Berners-Lee has good intentions, in making such a proposal one can only presume that he has lost the plot. He may have created the world wide web, and for that he deserves a lifetime of praise, but the idea that his creation be rated based on rankings around truths needs to die quickly before repressive governments, and those that nearly are, use his words as an excuse to censor and filter the internet further.