Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web has called on the UN General Assembly to lead the global push to connect the world.
Berners-Lee made the call on September 23, 2020, when he was asked how the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped his thinking on expanding connectivity during the High-Level panel “Digital Cooperation: Action Today for Future Generations” at the United Nations General Assembly.
In his response, the World Wide Web inventor said the importance of the web in the lives of people has grown since its invention but noted that the same time the disenfranchisement of those who can’t connect has also grown pointing out that Covid-19 has supercharged this process. He added, “The web is a lifeline in this crisis and yet it is a lifeline denied to billions just when they need it most.”
He said the world needs to face this turmoil with a renewed effort to remake the world for the better, that it is time to accelerate the building of a world where everyone – especially young women and girls – can access a safe and empowering web and that the world must be realistic about this. He noted that the web is often not safe or empowering and that as the world widens access it must also deliver a better web.
On the need to strengthen the web, he said “All of us here are digital citizens and all have a duty to create the web we want. That means behaving well and building strong online communities – but it also means fighting against online abuse, pushing back on misinformation and disinformation, and campaigning for the rights of everyone to use the web.”
He also expressed his faith in the youth saying “I believe young people hold the key to the change we strive for, and I applaud therefore the UN’s focus on youth.”
Citing last century’s global push to educate, and which saw primary school enrollment rise to over 70% in 1970 and 90% today and leading to changes in the lives of billions, he said: “This century we must lead a global push to connect everyone, and make sure all children have access to the internet’s transformational benefits.”
Harping on the empowering nature of the web, Sir Berners-Lee noted that during the pandemic, children with meaningful access to the internet were better able to continue learning while schools are closed. He cited a recent report from UNICEF which found that at least a third of the world’s children don’t have the technology they need to access remote learning pointing out that their lack of access to the internet is undermining their futures.
This, he said, is a powerful example of the way web access is a prerequisite for many of the Sustainable Development Goals – from supporting education and reducing inequalities, driving economic growth and to boosting health outcomes.
He disclosed that World Wide Web Foundation leading other global civil society organisations sent a joint letter to His Excellency VolkanBozkir, President of the UN General Assembly, emphasizing that digital technology increasingly underpins access to nearly all essential services, including food, water, energy, and healthcare, as well as critical pillars of government and democracy.
He said in the letter, they called on him to lead governments in a global statement committing to work for a digital future that is safe, empowering and inclusive. Sir Berners-Lee said “I add to that message a call on governments and companies to endorse the Contract for the Web, which I launched last year, as a clear action plan which can lead us to this goal. It’s more than just connectivity.”
“Like the leaders who accelerated access to education last century, we can leave a legacy of progress, by connecting the entire world and fighting tirelessly for a better web for everyone.”