World Wide Web: A warning from history – leader comment

The Gutenberg Bible was the beginning of a publishing revolution and centuries of upheaval in Europe (Olaf Jentzsch/AP)
The Gutenberg Bible was the beginning of a publishing revolution and centuries of upheaval in Europe (Olaf Jentzsch/AP)
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No one should underestimate the extent of the extraordinary changes – for good and ill – that have been taking place since the invention of the World Wide Web.

In 1455, Johannes Gensfleisch went to Frankfurt Book Fair with a groundbreaking technological development, the Gutenberg Bible, a book not painstakingly written out by hand, but the first printed with moveable type.

The invention of the printing press enabled mass communication on a previously impossible scale – a power credited with toppling monarchs and creating the Reformation with its subsequent religious wars.

READ MORE: WWW founder calls for online ‘bill of rights’

Thirty years ago today, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.

Within a few years, almost everyone on the planet had the ability to publish information to anyone who would listen.

The Arab Spring began in 2010 in Tunisia in part because of anger at political corruption that spread online.

As the protests grew, the country’s dictator fled the country; in Syria, Bashar Assad chose to fight.

This monarch-toppling power has also been exploited by those eager to undermine democratic regimes.

The World Wide Web was an extraordinary step forward for humanity, but has also brought real dangers – from child abuse to fake news – that we must take seriously.

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