The inventor of the world wide web has warned that it is “not working for women and girls” as he stressed the importance of tackling gender equality.
Tim Berners-Lee wrote in an open letter to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the revolutionary technology that women of color and those from LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities still face acute discrimination.
“This should concern us all. Women’s rights are human rights and are fundamental to a healthy society, from reducing poverty and disease to improving education and economic growth,” he wrote in his letter.
“And so it’s up to all of us to make the web work for everyone.” Berners-Lee said the call to action was “compelling and urgent.”
He urged those who shape technology – from CEOs to academics, engineers and public officials – to tackle online harms against women as a priority.
To date, he said, action had “been too slow and too small.”
He called for new legal protections to hold perpetrators of online gender-based violence to account, and said governments and companies should publish data on the experiences of women online – who often suffer “relentless” threats and sexual harassment.
He said that 2020 “must be the year” the problem is prioritized. “Relentless harassment silences women and deprives the world of their opinions and ideas,” he added.
Berners-Lee also said internet access for women around the world needed to be improved.
The role of artificial intelligence should also be addressed, he said, to ensure it was not perpetrating gender inequality. “Too often, algorithms reproduce and even deepen existing inequalities,” he said.
He acknowledged that many companies were working hard to tackle discrimination, but added that unless resources are dedicated and teams diversified to mitigate bias, there is a risk of expanding discrimination “at a speed and scale never seen before.”
Berners-Lee submitted his first proposal for an “information management system” in 1989.
He has become increasingly critical of the way the internet has evolved.
Last year, he marked the 30th anniversary of the web with an open letter calling for global efforts to tackle state-sponsored hacking, criminal behavior and abusive language on the internet.
In an open letter in 2018 he spoke out about the “concentration of power” among dominant platforms.