You don’t need permission to build new technologies for the Web. The openness of the Internet enables constant innovation and collaboration across borders. It extends from the architecture of the network and the underlying software, to how we publish content online.
That openness is a radical concept, and it is constantly at risk.
Governments block mobile apps or shut down the Internet at will, media trade groups lobby for expanded copyright worldwide and corporations seek to enclose and control whatever they can: email, messaging, social media, voice technology, virtual reality, machine learning and more – stifling competition and hampering innovation.
In 2017, the debate about the open Internet sharpened, as we confronted hate speech, online harassment and misinformation worldwide, and divisive politics in numerous countries played out on social media.
People are asking: Can we have an Internet that is both open and inclusive?
In the United States, this dilemma made its way into headlines in August when companies including Google, GoDaddy and Cloudflare terminated their services to neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their actions briefly pushed the site offline.
Germany made waves with a controversial “hate speech law” that introduced steep fines for social media companies if they do not take down illegal content quickly. Countries, including Russia, Kenya, Venezuela and The Philippines, have modeled legislation based on Germany’s.
Incidents like this point to a growing tension between the need to stymie hate online, and the risks of making Internet companies the arbiters of free speech.
The urgent question ahead of us as technologists, policy makers and citizens is: how can we preserve the open nature of the Internet, while at the same time building a digital world that is inclusive and welcoming to all?