Photo: AP

CAPE TOWN – A lot has gone wrong with the World Wide Web. Its users are now suffering from online abuse, fake news, data breaches and website shutdowns by governments. 

Its founder, Tim Berners-Lee, is deeply concerned about what the web has become and this week, speaking at the Web Summit in Lisbon (Portugal), announced what could be described as a major step towards saving it.

Berners-Lee announced a contract for the web, which asks the governments, internet companies and citizens to uphold a set of principles such as protecting privacy and being transparent about their algorithms. 

Speaking about the contract, Berners-Lee said: “It's about going back to values.” 

When the web was created it was not expected that it would be used as a tool to pursue negative objectives. As a result, no principles were set up to oversee the behaviour of those who are using and shaping it. 

The contract initiated by Berners-Lee at the Web Foundation is an attempt to close that gap. 

The contract calls on governments to ensure that everyone is connected to the internet. It calls on companies to make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone. 

To ensure that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web and, more importantly, to respect consumer privacy and personal data.

The citizens of the world and users of the web are also called on to build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity.

In response to current challenges with the web, citizens are called on to fight for the web so that it remains open for the benefits of society now and in the future.

The contract launched by Berners-Lee is just the beginning of a process that will carry on until May next year. So far, leading tech companies such as Google and Facebook have supported the contract. 

Developing the contract

France became the first country to support the contract. Other global social organisations are supportive of the contract. These include Access Now, Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Open Rights Group.

The process of developing the contract will be on-going in consultation with other key stakeholders. 

Africa remains one of the areas where negative effects of the bad web are felt. It is in Africa where governments are notorious for blocking some websites. It's African citizens who are less protected whenever there are data breaches on the web.

Europe has introduced a General Data Protection Regulation, which safeguards users of the web from harmful effects unleashed by tech giants. It is the US government that has called on technology giants to account for wrongdoing and violations conducted on the web. 

African governments have been silent on these matters while African citizens are also affected.

The South African government can lead the way in shaping a better future for the web by becoming the first signatory of the contract on the continent. Local web companies can also contribute by adhering to standards that will ensure that users of the web are not harmed in the process of using their websites. 

Users of the web on the African continent can also contribute by how they behave online. Abusive behaviour online can only be stopped by individuals who use the web.

It took one man in 1989 to create the web during his spare time. Individual efforts matter in shaping the better future of the web.

The African continent has an opportunity to embed its value systems in what can become a better African and global web.

Wesley Diphoko is editor-in-chief of The Infonomist. He also serves as chairperson of the IEEE Open Data Initiative.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.