The web — like many of us — has had its ups and downs this year.
As we entered year two of the pandemic, it continued to serve as a lifeline, connecting many to jobs, schools, and loved ones. Communities across the globe turned to the web to step up to the challenges of Covid-19. And young people used it to fight for justice and expand opportunities.
But the full story is not all rosy. Across the globe, internet shutdowns rose at an alarming rate. Meanwhile over a third of the world remains unconnected, with many millions more lacking the meaningful connectivity they need to fully benefit from the web’s power. And the release of the Facebook Files by whistleblower Frances Haugen added further evidence about ways that platforms are fueling misinformation, dividing societies and hurting individuals.
This needs to change. 2022 will be a pivotal year for shaping our online world, with more of us than ever focused on both the opportunities and dangers of tech, and legislators around the world getting moving on new bills and regulation.
The turning of the year has always been a moment to reflect on what’s gone before and look forward with hope and energy to make things better. So we asked some of our friends and partners, If you could make one change to the web in 2022, what would it be?
Here are their hopes, ideas, and solutions for the #WebWeWant.
Close the digital gender gap
Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director for Regional Integration for Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Northern Africa | @BoutheinaGuerm1
Globally, women and girls remain disproportionately excluded from offline spaces. This hurts the life chances of individuals but it also affects everyone, because we all miss out on the ideas and contributions of those women locked out of the digital revolution. Research from A4AI found that the digital gender divide deprived 32 countries of a combined $1 trillion in GDP growth over 10 years.
Policymakers have a huge opportunity to close this gap and improve life for women and girls, create economic growth, and forge healthier societies by addressing other gender inequalities — in education, political leadership, and earning power — all things they’ve committed to do as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. 2022 must be the year that we finally make digital gender equality a reality.
Make the digital world private and secure for children
Baroness Beeban Kidron, Chair, 5Rights Foundation | @5RightsFound
Children are paying the price for a digital world that continues to put profit before safety. Rapacious data collection and commercial surveillance mean the tech sector can no longer hide behind the old binary that pits privacy against safety. Children — that is anyone under the age of 18, not 13 as currently and conveniently configured — have a right to their data, their privacy, and ultimately their childhood.
We do not want to lock them out of the digital world, but to make sure their experiences are appropriate for their age. The technology is there to achieve this, what we lack is the corporate will and regulatory muscle. In 2022, I hope to see an end of headlines connecting the tech sector to the mental and physical distress of young people. They want and deserve a digital world that is private, secure, and age-sensitive; and 2022 should be the year they get it.
Create a web that does not profit off of our attention
Kat Zhou, Creator of <Design Ethically> | @katherinemzhou
Create global legislation that curbs the ability of tech companies to exploit our time, data, and money. Meanwhile, we need to also imagine alternatives to the attention economy that powers the web. It is this attention model that drives companies to design manipulative experiences in their reckless pursuit for growth. We deserve better than that.
We deserve the chance to give meaningful consent on digital platforms, rather than succumbing to sneaky design patterns and confusing Terms and Conditions. We deserve a way to find factual information that is elevated over inconspicuous advertisements or sensational clickbait. We deserve a web that prioritizes our mental health, rather than one that A/B tests at the expense of our emotional well-being. Do we dare to rein in current companies? Do we dare to create a web that does not profit off of our attention? If not for us, then for future generations.
Protect the universal open web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and co-founder of the Web Foundation | @timberners_lee
The universal open web is under pressure as new laws and regulations are created to meet the challenges of the internet age. While we need rules of the digital road to tackle threats and keep people safe, a world where conflicting rules are set country by country risks creating a fragmented internet in which people have access to different services and content depending on where they live, and where companies face a labyrinthian task when trying to operate across borders.
If we are to preserve a truly open, global internet that works for people, sparks innovation and helps us to collectively tackle the many challenges we face, we must build globally accepted norms to shape the digital future we want. If we do this right, we can preserve the web’s global nature and promote our interests and protect our rights. Let 2022 be the year we accelerate progress and build on the work of projects such as the UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and the Contract for the Web.
End abuse and discrimination against women
Mariana Valente, Director of Internet Lab | @mrnvlnt
If I could make one change to the web in 2022, I’d make it a place where there’s no abuse or discrimination against women.
I know it sounds utopic, but I insist that that is exactly what we need. Earlier this year, in a feminist meeting, someone said to me that at some point, we all started to treat misogyny online as a given: if you are a woman, and if you speak, you might experience it. It is such a powerful truth that it sounds simple – and one feels weird not having realized it before.
We need to revert that. Women and girls need to go about online without giving it a fearful thought before expressing their opinions, campaigning, showcasing their work and playing. We need to affirm the simple yet radical idea that being online should be easy and safe for everyone.
Connect rural and remote populations
Talant Sultanov, Co-founder, Internet Society-Kyrgyz Chapter | @talant
If I could make one change to the web in 2022, it would be to bring connectivity to communities in the mountainous and remote areas of Kyrgyzstan. “90% mountains, 100% awesome”, my friend Sven Stafford once said while visiting this country. There are about 30 villages in the mountainous areas of the country, which have no internet connectivity, such as Zardaly, Kyzyl-Oi, or Enilchek. During the pandemic all the schools, including the ones in unconnected villages, had to switch to offline mode of education, which meant that kids in these locations missed over a year of education.
“With no internet, we only could study through TV-lessons,” says 15-year old Hadicha in Kyzyl-Suu village. “I recorded these classes on my phone, but memory filled-up quickly, so I erased my personal photos and videos, because lessons are more important to me”.
Absence of the internet is an issue not only for education, but also health and lives are also at risk. “My 10-year old granddaughter had 40 degrees fever,” says 70-year old Kenesh in Enilchek, “I could not take her to the nearest doctor 150-km away, because I did not know if the mountain road was open or not. I could not risk getting stuck in the mountains with a sick child in the middle of a snowstorm. So we just stayed in the village praying that she would recover. Fortunately she did.”
We in the Kyrgyz Internet Society set ourselves a goal to connect these villages in 2022, so that Hadicha could complete her education and Kenesh would be able to travel freely without risking anyone’s life.
Decentralize the web and distribute power and opportunities globally
Silvio Meira, Chief Scientist, TDS.company | @srlm
We’ve just had more than half a decade of digital acceleration due to the pandemic. The merging of the physical, digital and social dimensions of behavior into a phygital space, both for people and organizations, became an obvious reality. I think this is a no return transition, leading to the uproar about the upcoming metaverse, whatever it is. The one change I wish for the web in 2022 and beyond would be to decentralize the network and distribute power and opportunities globally, as if countries and their regulators understood what the web was thought to be in the 1990’s.
Rather than a wish to return to a future that didn’t come through, it is a hope to download, from the imagined future, a present that is much more democratic than the current web of oligopolies. That’s not only possible, it’s within sight; but we have to go there and do it.
You’ve heard from the experts. Now it’s your turn: If you could make one change to the web in 2022, what would it be?
Head over to Twitter to join the conversation using #WebWeWant.
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