Sir Tim Berners-Lee, together with leaders from government, business, civic groups and citizens from across the world, has launched the a global action plan to halt the increasing misuse of the web and ensure it is protected as a force for good.

The inventor of the web has urged widespread backing of the plan, the Contract for the Web, which sets out concrete actions governments, companies and individual citizens can – and must – take to ensure a web that is safe, empowering and for everyone.

The failure of global actors to defend the free and open web, he warns, risks a “digital dystopia” of entrenched inequality and abuse of rights.

The web has proved one of the most powerful tools we have to change lives for the better. However, says Berners-Lee, its benefit to humanity is at risk due to a growing digital divide in access to the web and an increasing number of online threats, including election interference, online harassment, threats to privacy and the spread of disinformation.

* Almost 37% of 12-17 year olds in the US have been bullied online.

* In at least 45 democracies, including the UK and US, politicians and political parties have amassed fake followers or spread manipulated media to garner voter support.

* A false story reaches 1 500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does.

* Online scams cost users across 20 countries an estimated $172-billion in 2017.

* The percentage of Europeans online today (83%) is three times that of Africans (28%).

* 46% of the world’s population is still not online.

* A majority of people in the US are concerned about the way their data is being used by companies (79%) and the government (64%).

Berners-Lee challenges governments and companies to show leadership in addressing the threats facing the web.

“The power of the web to transform people’s lives, enrich society and reduce inequality is one of the defining opportunities of our time,” he says. “But if we don’t act now – and act together – to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering that potential.

“The Contract for the Web gives us a roadmap to build a better web. But it will not happen unless we all commit to the challenge. Governments need to strengthen laws and regulations for the digital age.

“Companies must do more to ensure pursuit of profit is not at the expense of human rights and democracy. And citizens must hold those in power accountable, demand their digital rights be respected and help foster healthy conversation online. It’s up to all of us to fight for the web we want.”

The Contract for the Web was written by over 80 experts from across sectors, with input from members of the public. It sets out new standards that will help make sure everyone can connect to the internet all of the time, ensure people’s data is protected and reduce online hate by strengthening community-building online.

The Contract for the Web, led by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation, is backed by more than 160 organisations, including Microsoft, Google, Electronic Frontier Foundation, DuckDuckGo, Telefonica, Access Now, Reddit, Facebook, GitHub, Reporters Without Borders and Ranking Digital Rights. Thousands of individuals, hundreds of organisations and the governments of Germany, France and Ghana signed up to the Contract’s founding principles.

Adrian Lovett, president and CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation comments: “This is the first time that such a diverse range of actors, with distinct – often conflicting – interests, have sat down and hammered out minimum standards for the web.

“We need to see more collaboration like this to drive change in the way that technology is developed, regulated and used. The Contract for the Web is just the beginning – we need a global movement to fight for the web that serves all of humanity.”

Berners-Lee first called for a new Contract for the Web at the Web Summit in Lisbon in 2018, where he published nine founding principles.

Having led a coalition to build the Contract over the last year, the Web Foundation is now working with partners to develop tools to measure progress on the contract clauses and advocating for policy solutions to ensure the Contract’s goals are being met.