Tim Berner-Lee on how to save the Internet

Every two millennia or so many believe we get a message from the Creator on how to reboot the system. For the Internet, such messages come more frequently, and in the form of serial tweets rather than stone tablets or celestial signs.

The Creator of the Internet is the very visible and incarnate person. No, Al Gore, it is not thee: it is Tim Berners-Lee. Like a knight in shining armor (he is a Knight after all, albeit lacking hte medeival suit)He recently communicated to the faithful in a series of nine (probably should have been ten to fit the biblical metaphor) tweets to save the world. I bring them down from the mountain as it were below.

I. Thou shalt not despair

"This is a serious moment for the web's future. But I want us to remain hopeful. The problems we see today are bugs in the system. Bugs can cause damage, but bugs are created by people and can be fixed by people."

II. Thou shalt not take the name of thy Lord Zuck in vain

"I can imagine that Mark Zuckerberg is devastated that his creation has been abused and misused (Some days I have that same feeling).

(Editors note: I imagine Gutenberg had the same misgivings. Also, see top story in 3.22.18 NYT for the Zuckerword.)

III. Go forth and hack all nations

"I would say unto him You can fix it. It won't be easy but if companies work with the governments, activists, academics and web users we can make sure platforms serve humanity."  

(Editor's note: OK, I inserted the unto in the first sentence, again in service of the tortured biblical metaphor. Also, when he suggests working with governments, I imagine he is excluding implicitly The Evil Empire 2.0. Further, it seems the platforms are serving certain sectors of humanity well, i.e. those who are long FB.)

IV. Thou shalt not steal data

"General rules for us all. Any data about me, whatever it is, is mine and mine alone to control. If you are given the right to use data for one purpose, use it for that purpose alone."

(Ed: That is one digital deity's opinion, unlikely to withstand secular scrutiny, especially of the legal variety. Do you own your phone number? Your address? Even your own name? Do I have to pay you a royalty or get your permission every time I use your first name, middle name, and last name? Who owns your social security number? After all, to quote a recent POTUS, you didn't build that. Who owns your voter registration data? Answer: the public. Public information is by law accessible. There are landmark cases in US law establishing that public data such as analog phone directories have very weak to non-existent copyright protection.)

V. Thou shalt not take the data of thy Lord in vain

"If you have access to data for research purposes, it is REALLY IMPORTANT that you ONLY uses (sic) it for research purposes. So much important science and medicine depend on that data.

(Ed. Two observations regarding digital vs. stone tablet media: First, the use of all caps for emphasis is an important upgrade--the Abrahamic deity probably would have used it for at least Numeral VI; second, in the mobile age the occasional typo is allowed even for deities--reminiscent like the Persian rugs that have but one flaw, because only Allah is perfect.

On the merits of TBL's Fifth Commandment, I agree. The entire data business hinges upon licensing agreements and adherence thereto. While the question of data ownership is fraught per IV. above, contract compliance is not. Data must be ruled by contract law or it will become inaccessible.)

VI. Thou shalt bring no false webs before me

"My message to all web users today is this: I may have invented the web, but you make it what it is. And its up to all of us to build a web that reflects our hopes & fulfills our dreams more than it magnifies our fears and deepens our divisions."

(Ed. Again Gutenberg comes to mind. He started with the Bible but his invention ended up printing Mein Kampf.  The trouble is, to paraphrase an old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, in which Tonto, corned with the LR by an overwhelming force of hostile braves, says unto him: "What do you mean we, Kemosabe?"--I am 1/16 Native American so I get to use this. One brave's hopes and dreams are another's fears and nightmares. The Web, like the printing press, is a tool that can be used for good or ill, and no one thinks they are evil--it's always the other that is. Which is why FB has gone to great pains to be the arbiter of truth. For even He had no answer the answer to jesting Pilate's question of  ""Quid est veritas?"

To paraphrase Madison, If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels governed men, no controls on government would be necessary. Since men govern men, and men aren't angels, the challenge is to enable a government to control the governed while obliging it to control itself.

The internet faces a similar challenge. Perhaps it is best left to each individual internaut has to deal with the internuts, just as the reader needs to navigate the bookstore, and use the lost art of critical thinking to choose truth.  In three famous words from the first of the Ten Rights proclaimed in another decalogue, the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, "Congress shall make no laws abridging...the freedom of speech, or of the press." Our Lord Zuck, as a private citizen heading a private corporation, is not bound by the First Amendment. Or is he? We shall see.)

VIIGo forth and teach all networks that thy shall not covet thy neighbor's data

"What can web users do? Get involved. Care about your data. It belongs to you. If we each take a little of the time we spend using the web to fight for the web, I think we will be OK. Tell companies and your government representatives that your data and the web matter."

(Ed: The tragedy of the commons comes to mind, in tandem with Scott McNealy's famous quote "You have zero privacy anyway.  Get over it." 

It strains credulity to think that unsophisticated netizens who struggle to remember their passwords will assiduously pore over endless general terms and conditions which they have perjuriously attested to having read and agreed to, and performing the intricate machinations required to regain at least the illusion of privacy informed by a doctoral level understanding of the API enabled tech stack to which they are subjected every nanosecond.

It seems more efficient and effective to equip each user with a good BS detector. Perhaps an AI app is in order.)

VIII. Give thanks to the angels of the lord

"And unto every digital rights organization large and small, to every journalist investigating the impact of data and the web on our world-thank you. Keep fighting fir the web we want. The Web will not realize its potential without you."

(Ed: Ibid notes on VI. and VII. above. The danger here is that much of the sturm and drang about FB and Cambridge Analytica is meta clickbait. Political pros have dismissed the alleged master manipulations that caused the controversy as smoke and mirrors hype. Had the 2016 POTUS election gone as expected, one suspects there would be no story. As to the Russkis, they have been masters of agitprop since the time of the czars. The KGB had it down to a near science. There is nothing new here under the sun. It's just digitized.)

IX. Remember the Sabbath

"For more of my thoughts on how we get everyone connected, and make sure they have a web worth connecting to, check out the @webfoundation...www.webfoundation.org."  

(Ed: Apropos of the topic and times, one is called to go to the website rather than the temple.)

Well, that is endquote as the journos say. I think TBL is a bit idealistic and perhaps a tad pretentious. On the other hand, his claim to being the prime mover of the Big NBank that created the internet is as valid a webgenesis story as any I've heard (certainly beats Al Gore's), so he deserves some latitude and pomposity passes.

Furthermore, his essential point is well taken. In the immortal words of Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us. The root of the problem was summarized by Barnum; "There's a sucker born every day".

Here's what to do., Don't be one. Don't take the bait. Don't believe the hype.Don't cast yourself adrift on the roiled ocean of emotion we call politics. Consider the source. Check the facts (can you say Snopes?) Read before sharing. Think more than feel. 

Maybe AI is so popular because the real thing is so scarce. Let's get smarter. You can't legislate, regulate, or code that. It takes exercising the old wetware.