24 November 2020
Blue lit earth from outer space with connected network points

Today’s blog post reflects on the 2020 global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held across two phases, with pre-event sessions from November 2-6 and the IGF itself from November 9-17. We look at the key thematic tracks of the online event, discuss ways to demonstrate resilience through inclusion and by building trust and look at the importance of working together to support a common goal: the internet as critical infrastructure and our responsibility in cultivating change. 

As the leading “global, multi stakeholder platform that facilitates the discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the internet”, the IGF is a major event in the annual Internet governance calendar. When comparing the draft summary with the key themes of NetThing 2020 (Australia’s own Internet Governance Forum) we begin to appreciate the commonalities and areas of importance.

Thematic tracks

The overarching theme at the IGF 2020 was an “Internet for human resilience and solidarity”, with four thematic tracks on the agenda:

  • Data (e.g. data collection, data privacy, data-driven technologies);
  • Environment (e.g. responding to and understanding environmental trends including energy consumption caused by developing technologies); 
  • Inclusion (e.g. meaningful, inclusive internet access and multi stakeholder cooperation);
  • Trust (e.g. control, data sharing, information sharing and cross border collaboration between governments and countries).

Inclusion and trust

Two fundamental elements of a resilient Internet infrastructure and community as discussed by participants at IGF 2020 were inclusion and trust, which we expand on further below.

As highlighted by Gergana Petrova, External Relations Officer at Regional Internet Registry, Ripe Network Coordination Centre, there were many thought provoking sessions at IGF 2020. These included a panel on “Building digital bridges: engaging young women online”, which focused on accessibility, gender and inclusion. Petrova encourages readers to break down common stereotypes and barriers relating to women in technology and take an active role in getting more women involved in the space. This was similar to the discussion at NetThing, on “Censorship and Expression Online: Whose voices are amplified and whose are silenced?”, where four inspiring women spoke about their experience addressing common stereotypes and dealing with disproportionate representation online. 

A final report on IGF 2020 from Digital Watch Observatory emphasises the importance in protecting women’s rights and integrating the perspectives of women and gender diverse people into policy making processes. It is important that everyone’s rights and interests are taken into account, so if you are interested in getting involved, get in touch with your National and Regional IGF Initiatives (NRI) Coordinator for more information.

Trust and the role of technology in enabling coordinated campaigns and the widespread distribution of fabricated content is another area Petrova writes about. In the panel, “Robots against disinformation: Automated trust building?”, at IGF 2020 panelists discussed whether this type of behaviour could be managed by technology when it is caused by technology. She reflected on how they “spoke of the importance of digital media and information literacy for all ages, so that we can exercise critical thinking over the content we see online“, noting that it will not happen overnight. At NetThing, the panel on “Information, Misinformation, Disinformation” focused on similar issues, including the way manipulated opinion can be strategically used to influence audiences and propagate harmful behaviours including hate speech, clickbaiting and sensationalist journalism. 

The report on IGF 2020 from Digital Watch Observatory suggests that a way we could improve digital literacy is by introducing it into the school curriculum to concentrate on awareness of risks for students, teachers and parents. If this is something that is already in place, as it is in Australia, it is essential to continue to check course content for relevancy to ensure the objectives are keeping up with the constantly evolving online world.

Working together to support a common goal

After comparing NetThing 2020 to the draft report of IGF 2020, we can see that the events share commonalities in bringing these major issues to the surface. As platforms for discussion these events share mutual goals, and while we understand that these priorities need to be reached on a country by country basis due to differing models of regulation, coming together to identify the challenges and discuss solutions is beneficial for all parties.

As explained by Vice President of Strategy at Afilias, Melinda Clem in this video, Multi stakeholder events are essential to the development and ongoing role of the Internet as critical infrastructure. Here in .au Afilias Australia works closely with .au Domain Administration (auDA) in recognising our responsibility as a global organisation in supporting the Internet as critical infrastructure and in cultivating change.

For more information on National and Regional IGF initiatives, and to find out how you can make a difference visit intgovforum.org or, if you are interested in volunteering for NetThing 2021 (Australia’s own IGF), subscribe to the Organising Committee mailing list here.

Have a question, question or idea for a future blog post? Email us at blog@afilias.com.au today.