The Associated Press has decided to switch from “the Internet” and “the Web” to “the internet” and “the web” from June 1. It’s provoked a mix of politeness, pedantry and philosophy.
The changes will come in the AP stylebook. Not only does that determine the “correct” usage in the AP’s reports, but it’s also used as the basis of many newspapers’ own internal guidelines. It’s often the default reference point for journalists in the absence of specific guidelines and is much more influential in shaping usage than are major dictionaries which take longer to change and see themselves instead as reflecting usage.
It’s certainly not the first such change the AP has made. It finally changed e-mail to email in 2011 and “Web site” to “website” the previous year.
The change to “web” appears relatively uncontroversial and will apply across the board, meaning that all uses such as “Web page” and “Web browser” will also be lower cased.
Changing from “the Internet” has upset some folks however, who argue that multiple internets exist, each of which is simply a series of interconnected networks. That argument goes that a capitalized “the Internet” distinguishes a specific internet, namely the massive one that is delivering this article to you right now.
There’s also an argument that it doesn’t make sense to use lower case “Internet” but still preface it with “the”.
That said, while there are many dissenters to the AP’s viewpoint, the debate appears to have been remarkably civil given that it involves folk arguing online about spelling and grammar.