With a little help from some friends

Jim KnightJim Knight on a quarter of a century of the World Wide Web and its effects on UK society

Last night, looking at the time limit for today’s debate I tweeted in despair: Tomorrow I speak in @Marthalanefox's Lords debate in 25th birthday of World Wide Web. Time limit of 3 minutes! What's most important to say?

Adam replied from New York: That you can simply ask the 'common folk' what to spend your 3 minutes saying, just by tweeting the question!

So that was that. I will use my time to tell you what my social media followers on the World Wide Web wanted me to say.

I must first refer to my entry in the House of Lords register, in particular as chair of the Tinder Foundation. Thanks to successive government funding we have helped 1.2 million people get online since 2010 through UK Online Centres.

But back to Twitter and Facebook. Starting with Tom Watson MP: Just say: Thanks Tim! Ed Balls just said: @edballs

Then Cllr Warren Morgan, Labour Group Leader on Brighton and Hove City Council: the web has connected and empowered, informed and democratised, tackled isolation, built new generations of businesses, spread ideas.

And Susan had the freedom of Facebook to say more: connections through the Internet enable ordinary people in different countries to communicate directly with each other, to understand each other better... It also means lots of people who would otherwise be isolated - whether geographically or because of disability or because they are carers - are able to keep their minds and spirits alive. Politically, it's wonderful. More people can be engaged in trying to influence the decisions a country makes.

Louise and Peter had a more nuanced view: the web is a powerful tool that's used for good and ill. With the freedom the WWW gives comes greater personal responsibility resting on the shoulders of those in power.

Stephen Heppell then asked: why isn't a Tim on a banknote yet? And he wants kids to own their learning data; and education discounts on connectivity for learners. Ruth agreed and added: Plus maybe something about digital exclusion - geographically (it's still APPALLING in some parts of the country) and demographically (viz poverty) And you ought to celebrate the richness of life brought through cat videos. Probably. 

Helen agreed with Ruth: Make sure you mention how handy it is for sharing cat videos. And Emma Mulqueeny just posted another video of her kitten Grape.

There were also several who celebrated the freedom of the web but worried about who controls it; best summed up, in turn, by Mark, William and Adam:  

This will only be persistent as a benefit if we actively seek to protect the neutrality of the network. 25 years can be about celebrating the past but absolutely also needs to be a call for vigilance in developing further an equitable future.

We need to address the surveillance problem. And we need personal control over personal data.

The freedom and anonymity of the web which is a vital part of its power and vitality is being eaten away by govts and big corps. If this continues a lot of what makes it important will vanish. Sorry to sound like a liberal. 

I have curated all of the comments on Storify but will conclude by quoting Owen: The web is the single most powerful thing that mankind has ever created but, like most other things, it can be used for good or for evil purposes. What we have to master is giving freedom to the good whilst curbing the evil.

And from me, thanks Tim for your gift to everyone. You gave it for free to keep it universal. As a result, we all have to change how we do things to make the most of it, for everyone.

Lord Jim Knight of Weymouth is a member of Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords, and tweets @jimpknight

Published 16th January 2014

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