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Berners-Lee backs web truthiness labelling scheme

The internet is full of cults

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The rumours, disinformation and hoaxes that prosper online should be ghettoised by a new website credibility labelling scheme, according to Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The director of the World Wide Web Consortium told an audience at the launch of his new foundation yesterday he had been in discussions on "how the web can help us filter good information from bad".

In a BBC interview he explained that he is increasingly worried about the proliferation of bogus information facilitated by his creation. Berners-lee said: "On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable.

"A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging." He complained about the recent unscientific online panic-frenzy surrounding the Large Hadron Collider's alleged ability to suck the Earth into a man-made black hole.

Berners-Lee's proposed answer to this "problem" seems to be some kind of centralised accreditation scheme for websites, and readers incapable of independent critical thought. "I'm not a fan of giving a website a simple number like an IQ rating because like people they can vary in all kinds of different ways," he said. "So I'd be interested in different organisations labelling websites in different ways."

The idea is somewhat reminiscient of Tim 2.0'Reilly's aborted blogging code of practice, which aimed to rein in the more vicious corners of web debate. Happily, it failed swift and hard.

The other big idea Berners-Lee presented on Sunday will prove less controversial than a self-appointed truthiness bureau. The World Wide Web Foundation has been set up with a $5m seed grant from the Knight Foundation to advance a web that is free and open, and "to expand the web's capability and robustness, and to extend the web's benefits to all people on the planet".

At launch, Berners-Lee's foundation is understandably short on specifics, sounding much the same as myriad other webtastic NGOs. It plans to pursue its goals via technological innovation, web science, and projects targeting underserved communities. Berners-Lee said adapting the web for the mobile devices that are likely to be key to access in developing countries merits particular attention, but "if the Foundation achieves all the things I can imagine now, we will have failed," he said. ®

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