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Manifesto for a Humane Web

The web is becoming hostile to humans. Users are tracked and their privacy is routinely violated. Search results are populated with ads. We are constantly spammed by bots. Generative AI threatens to turn previously useful public forums into soulless marketing soup, while sacrificing the livelihoods of the creators that unwittingly power them 1. Power-hungry data centres2 demand the burning of fossil fuels, and divert water and energy from communities, emitting tonnes of carbon in order to power this digital junkyard. Users abandon hostile websites that take too long to load on low-powered devices, or are forced to upgrade, as the pile of electronic waste grows3.

We need a web by and for humans.

From the ashes

The good news is, rebirth is possible. A humane web can rise from the ashes. Life can flourish in the dirt. By tending our safe havens in our own corners of the web, and by sharing with our friends and neighbours, away from the gaze of monolithic corporations, a new web can thrive. We can rewild the internet4.

If what we don’t want from the web is increasingly clear, perhaps it’s time to identify what kind of web we do want. How do we define a humane web?

This manifesto is intended as a personal response to the current state of the web. It is a statement of intent and a call to arms, inviting you, the reader, to go forth and build humane websites, and to resist the erosion of the web we know and love. It reflects my thoughts and feelings at the time of writing, but it is not “complete”. The definition of a humane web should grow and evolve over time.

Citizens, not users

In writing this manifesto, I thought a lot about how we refer to people accessing the web as “users”. The term “users” implies a group distinct from those building and creating for the web. To me it implies a more passive relationship of consuming content. In reality, we should all have the opportunity to create, publish, build and consume content on the web. Like a functioning society, we take what we need, and we contribute what we can. We are citizens of the web.

The term “Netizen” was coined by Michael Hauber5 to describe someone who actively contributes to the development of the web, as opposed to someone who goes online only to consume content. I would argue we are all Netizens now. Even when we go online to read the news, or find a recipe, it is virtually impossible to prevent our data being harvested and used to mould our browsing experience. We all shape the web of today, whether or not by choice. Just as opting out of society is virtually impossible, in the world of today we cannot help but be Netizens. Therefore we all have a duty of care and respect, and we all have a stake in a humane web. In this manifesto I have tried to avoid using the term “users” when referring to people accessing the web.


A humane web should be:


Our websites should meet people where they are. They should be accessible to people with disabilities, and take into account the many different ways people might access the web. They should be empowering and equitable, not provide additional barriers.


Our websites should not discriminate against based on race, gender, age, orientation, ability, class or economic status. Gatekeeping should be avoided.


Our websites should not put people in danger. They should not serve harmful content, or content that encourages harm, violence or discrimination against others, nor should they support enablers of harm.


Our websites should respect people’s privacy. They should respect data protection laws. We should afford visitors the confidence that their data will not be sold to third parties without their explicit knowledge and consent, and avoid hostile patterns that attempt to obtain consent through deception.


Every care should be taken to minimise our websites’ environmental impact. They should be lean, clean, efficient, well-optimised, and avoid creating digital and physical waste.


Information provided on the web should be trustworthy and sourced appropriately. Visitors to a website should be afforded the confidence that content can be reliably accessed at a given URL, and will not disappear. Digital services should function in their time of need.


Our websites should be built with web standards, and utilise progressive enhancement. They should function across different devices, in different languages and under different environmental conditions.


The motivations and intent of a website should be made clear to the people using it. It should be easy to find out who owns, funds, and creates content for a website, when that information is in the public interest.


No one “owns” the web. No single central authority decides who can publish on or access the web.


Our websites should be designed by and for humans. They should be kind, collaborative, and foster connections, not isolation. A humane web should contribute to a better future.

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  1. Why AI is a Threat to Artists, an interview with artist Molly Crabapple from the podcast Tech Won’t Save Us
  2. Power grab: the hidden costs of Ireland’s datacentre boom, from The Guardian
  3. World Wide Waste, book by Gerry McGovern
  4. We Need To Rewild The Internet, from Noema
  5. Netizen, definition from Wikipedia

Further reading

This manifesto was born from ideas formed while writing a piece for Branch, The Perfect Site Doesn’t Exist. It was influenced by the writings of people far cleverer than me, who have been thinking and writing eloquently on the past, present and future of the web for far longer. Here are just a few of them.

Principles and guidelines

Design and tech thinking

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This site was built with 11ty and is designed to be lightweight and fast. Do you have an idea for improving this manifesto? Open a pull request on Github, or email me at