World Wide Web Founder Says the Internet “Is Not Working for Women”

"The web is simply not safe enough"

Tim Berners-Lee
The internet? Not a great place for the ladies!
Francois G. Durand/Getty Images
By Kayla Kibbe / March 12, 2020 1:59 pm

Surprise! Like most places, it turns out the internet is not a great place to be a woman!

This groundbreaking insight comes to us via world wide web founder Tim Berners-Lee, who warns of a “dangerous trend” of online abuse and harassment playing out against women on the internet.

“The world has made important progress on gender equality thanks to the unceasing drive of committed champions everywhere,” Berners-Lee wrote in an open letter published Thursday in honor of the web’s 31st birthday. “But I am seriously concerned that online harms facing women and girls – especially those of colour, from LGBTQ+ communities and other marginalised groups – threaten that progress.”

The letter goes on to highlight three specific concerns Berners-Lee has deemed particularly pressing, namely issues of access, safety and flawed artificial-intelligence systems that perpetuate discrimination. “A majority of the world’s women are still not connected to the internet, largely because they can’t afford it, or have no access to the technology they need or the skills to use it,” he wrote, adding that men are over 20 percent more likely than women to be online.

Meanwhile, for those women who are online, “the web is simply not safe enough,” wrote Berners-Lee, citing a survey from the Web Foundation that found over half of young women report having experienced some form of violence online, including threats and sexual harassment. “Such abuse forces women out of jobs and causes girls to skip school, it damages relationships and leads to tremendous distress,” he wrote.

Berners-Lee also addressed the problematic rise of flawed artificial-intelligence systems, noting that while this technology has the potential to increase equality and access, it tends to have the opposite effect. “Too often, algorithms reproduce and even deepen existing inequalities,” he wrote. “Many companies are working hard to tackle this discrimination. But unless they dedicate resources and diversify teams to mitigate bias, they risk expanding discrimination at a speed and scale never seen before.”

While none of this is exactly news — women have known the internet is bad for women for years — the urgency of Berners-Lee’s call to action is heartening. “By answering it together,” he wrote, “we can create a stronger, better web; one that empowers, fosters equality, and serves each and every one of us.”

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