How public voices shaped the Contract for the Web

6th November 2019 | Update

One year ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee called for a new Contract for the Web to safeguard the future of the web. Since then experts from across governments, companies and civil society have come together to make this Contract a reality — and in July, we published the first draft of the Contract for the Web.

To ensure the Contract — like the web itself — is by and for everyone, we opened the draft up to public comment, asking people to rate each of the Contract’s draft clauses and give their comments, criticisms, and suggestions (we were open to compliments too!).

600 of you responded to the survey and your feedback informed the final Contract for the Web text — which we will launch on November 25 at the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin.

Overall, the responses to the clauses were overwhelmingly positive: all clauses were rated above 4 on a 1-5 scale.

Your feedback was valuable and helped us understand what was most important to you about the Contract. In four specific areas, your feedback directly contributed to the negotiations of the final text — here’s how you helped shape it.

Prioritising digital inclusion

Several clauses in the Contract target the gap between men and other gender identities. Many of these clauses received critical comments and were often rated lower than others.

We wanted to understand what that was the case, so we set out to see if the ratings varied across genders. The results of this investigation were telling: female respondents returned a notably higher rating than male respondents for the clause related to gender responsive and economically inclusive data plans (Principle 4, Clause 1.1).

Inclusion is critical to the long-term growth and the strength of the web. The fight for equal rights for systematically excluded groups is non-negotiable.

Table displaying ratings of Principle 4, Clause 1.1: Designing gender responsive and economically inclusive data plans Female: 4.633 Male: 4.278 Did identify gender: 3.667A web that is for everyone will be stronger than a web that is only for certain groups. We must fight to make sure everyone — regardless of who they are and where they live — can participate actively online. For this reason, we decided not to take in requests to reduce or weaken references to gender inequalities.

Misinformation and disinformation seen as critical threats

Many comments and suggestions highlighted misinformation and disinformation as two critical threats facing the web today. While the first draft of the Contract addressed moderation dispute resolution mechanisms, content take-down and risks around online content, the specific terms “misinformation” and “disinformation” were not specifically included by the multi stakeholder group drafting it.

We agree these issues require urgent and thoughtful solutions. As a starting point for further policy development on these issues, we included specific references within Principles 2 and 6.

The edited principles now read as follows (key additions in bold):

Principle 2 — Governments will create capacity to ensure demands to remove illegal content are done in ways that are consistent with Human Rights Law by:

  • Funding research and engaging in multi stakeholder forums aimed at developing future regulation on moderation dispute resolution mechanisms and content take-down, including with the aim of limiting the impacts of misinformation and disinformation, to ensure these are aligned with human rights standards.
  • Developing mechanisms to ensure meaningful transparency for political advertising

Principle 6 — Companies will develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst by publishing regular reports, including how they are:

  • Assessing and addressing risks created by their technologies, including risks associated with online content (such as misinformation and disinformation), behavior, and personal well-being.

Strengthening the web as a public good 

Many of you agreed with the text’s framing of the web as a public good and offered specific suggestions to strengthen this concept.

The changes made to the final text reflect people’s interest in our shared responsibility to grow the body of knowledge publicly available on the web.

The edited principle now reads as follows (key additions in bold):

Principle 6 — Companies will develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst by investing in and supporting the digital commons by:

  • Ensuring that the terms of service, interfaces and channels of redress are accessible and available in local languages and properly localized, use formats that allow, encourage, and empower a diverse set of users to actively participate in and contribute to the commons, including open and free culture, science, and knowledge. 

Giving governments a say on tax policy

The first draft of the Contract pointed to reduced taxes and import duties (Principle 1, Clause 2.5) on ICT equipment and services as an example of tax policies that could bring more people online.

The first draft text read:

Principle 1 — Ensure everyone can connect to the internet by designing robust policy-frameworks and transparent enforcement institutions to achieve such goals, through:

  • Tax and investment policies that stimulate rapid investment in — and adoption of — connectivity solutions, such as reducing taxes and import duties on telecommunications/ICT equipment and services.

This clause received the lowest score (4.18 out of 5) across the whole document — signalling the need for further discussion. In addition, government representatives suggested we leave room for governments to define specific tax policies.

Taking these comments into account, we broadened the scope of the clause by removing the reference to reduced taxes and import duties. This will allow governments to decide how to best balance the revenue needs to comply with their obligation to provide other key public services — while also prioritising affordable access to the internet.

The final text reads:

Principle 1 — Ensure everyone can connect to the internet by designing robust policy-frameworks and transparent enforcement institutions to achieve such goals, through:

  • Fiscal and investment policies that stimulate investment in — and adoption of — connectivity solutions.

600+ people shaped the Contract

Over 600 people responded to the survey, representing a wide range of countries, sectors, and age groups.

To try to achieve greater representation among survey respondents, we ran a social media campaign alongside partner organisations and influencers to reach out specifically to people that might have been beyond our core networks. In total, people from over 70 countries participated.

Map showing where survey respondents live

As the bar chart below shows, we benefited from a balanced sample in terms of age group, with the exception of youth below the age of 18.

Bar chart showing ages of survey respondents

We heard from a range of stakeholder groups. 88 respondents identified themselves as representatives of the private sector, 48 academia, 33 government, 57 civil society, and 290 private individuals.

Pie chart showing sector affiliation of respondents

Almost 70% of the respondents identified as male — an imbalance that required thoughtful consideration in our analysis of the survey responses.

Pie chart showing gender of respondents

Moving forward, it’s vital we hear women’s voices or we risk exacerbating the already stark digital divide that sees men as 24.8% more likely to have access to the internet than women and 12% more likely to use the internet than women.

We want to thank all of you for adding your voice to the Contract deliberations. Sir Tim said the web is for everyone. By bringing together a diverse range of stakeholders, we hope the Contract for the Web helps us work toward this goal. Yet we must underline that this gift cannot be taken for granted — the future of the web relies on each one of us to make thoughtful and active contributions. We look forward to your continued involvement as we fight for the web we want.


Learn more about the survey responses.

To stay up-to-date with progress on the Contract for the Web, follow the Web Foundation on Twitter at @webfoundation.

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