Web pioneer calls for action over inequality

Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has called on social networks to do more to tackle gender inequality online. Speaking at the launch of a report looking into the social impact of the web, Berners-Lee said the promotion of controversial ideas was fuelling a rise in gender-based violence.

“When you look at Twitter, people tend to retweet things which are more extreme,” he said. “You don’t see people retweeting things that are a really balanced opinion. Twitter is an environment that is emotionally charged.” He also called on more accountability to be put in place for those who express such views.

Equal-rights campaigners have been threatened on Twitter with violence and sexual assault in the past, whileOlympic gold-medal winner Jessica Ennis-Hill received rape threats after suggesting she would end her association with Sheffield United if the football club re-signed convicted rapist Ched Evans.

New figures released by the computer scientist’s foundation show that in more than 70 per cent of countries surveyed, users felt law-enforcement agencies and the courts were failing to take appropriate action when the web was part of the violence. A study of female Twitter users aged 18 to 24 in the United States found that 25 per cent had been the target of online sexual harassment.

Another report into misogyny on Twitter found more than 6 million uses of the words “slut” and “whore” over a six-week period, with an estimated 20 per cent of these uses being judged as threatening. The foundation is a charity created by Berners-Lee to improve life online.

Speaking at the launch of its Web Index report, he said it was time to recognise the internet as a basic human right. “That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of web users.”