One of the internet’s founding fathers says tech giants must fight fake news.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee says Facebook and Google should fight the rise of fake news, while everyday users fight to protect their personal data.

The 61-year-old British computer scientist has a five-year strategy for tackling fake news.

In an open letter for the World Wide Web Foundation, Sir Berners-Lee said the internet is still an open platform that allows “everyone, everywhere to share information”, but is now heading in a worrying direction. 

“The net result is that these sites show us content they think we'll click on — meaning that misinformation, or ‘fake news’, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases, can spread like wildfire,” he wrote. 

“And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.”

He was also concerned about the risk of nefarious political advertising.

“The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data means that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users.

“And there are suggestions that some political adverts — in the US and around the world — are being used in unethical ways — to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls,” Sir Berners-Lee wrote.

But the letter is not without solutions.

“A few broad paths to progress are already clear,” he said.

Those measures include:

  • Web companies working together to strike a balance to restore a fair level of data control to people
  • Fighting government overreach in surveillance laws through the courts if necessary
  • Pushing back against misinformation by having providers like Google and Facebook combat the problem, but importantly avoiding setting up central bodies to decide what is “true”
  • Transparency on the algorithms that serve content online
  • Establishing a common set of principles to be followed