Digital cooperation: Action today for future generations

23 Sep 2020 16:00h - 20:00h

Event report

The session, framed in three segments, had a multistakeholder approach in addressing the current challenges in digital cooperation for the next generation. The guiding question has been: What kind of world would we like to leave to our children? Each of the segments featured input from youth.


1. Connect — Achieving Universal Connectivity for the world by 2030


Half of the world’s population is not connected to the Internet and hundreds of children are losing the opportunity to build a better future for themselves. UNICEF and ITU have launched GIGA, a global initiative to connect every school to the Internet and all young people to information, opportunity, and choice. It aims to combine new tools with those existing to revolutionise learning and, eventually, to make learning a free public good. That access to the Internet is a fundamental basic human need became obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. Critical information–such as health information–depends on meaningful access to the Internet. Human values and ideas online are as important as they are offline. ‘We have an opportunity to shape the entire culture of new generations on the internet. It is time for the Internet to grow up’, says Ms Ilwad Elman (Chief Operating Officer, Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre).

Mr Jack Ma (Co-chair, Panel on Digital Cooperation) focused on the opportunities that the digital era brings, including those in education. Current educational curricula are based on the needs of the industrial era, and so education needs to prepare children to respond to the needs of the digital era and future jobs. Only 11% of children in Africa have a computer in their household and only 18 percent have an Internet connection. Innovative and sustainable ways to connectivity are imperative.

Msr Sahle-Work Zewde (President, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) highlighted the negative consequences of the Internet, such as cyberstalking, online violence, hate speech, online child abuse, sexual exploitation, and bulling. Ethiopia has recently adopted digital information strategies to enable people’s access, especially in remote areas. The World Wide Web (WWW) Foundation is committed to working towards connectivity with the emphasis on a decent and respectful web for all underprivileged individuals, including girls and women.

‘Technology is a prerequisite for many SDGs’, says Sir Tim Berners-Lee (Director, WWW Foundation). The role of regulators and government is important in making online services more accessible. Connectivity enables young people’s education today and their education depends on their life success. Young people are digital citizens. Even when they do not have access to devices, ‘digital’ is their native language. Digitalisation is an accelerator of opportunities, and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) depend on it, too. No country can afford not to invest in digital financing.

Most displaced people live on the margins of society. Mr Filippo Grandi (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) said that a new digital strategy is being developed to ensure connectivity for refugees. As part of this strategy, Ericsson is committing their resources and is working with their customers to resolve connectivity challenges.Ms Ruth Porat (Alphabet and Google) announced that Google is committing 20 million dollars for global recovery to provide critical information around the world.

The panel agreed that connectivity needs to be universal and affordable, especially for minority groups, people with disabilities, girls and women. It will lead to closing the digital gender gap.


2. Respect — Realising human rights and empowerment in the digital age


● What should the international community be doing to support the protection of human rights online? Apart from Internet access, presently it is of vital importance to have access to accurate and trustworthy information. The work of journalists and free media is important. Governments and big Internet companies have control over what information comes to people, says Ms Simonetta Myriam Sommaruga (President of the Swiss Confederation). She invited global multistakeholder dialogue and for clear rules and principles to be respected by each stakeholder. Digital governance architecture needs to protect democratic processes.

Ms Irene Zubaida Khan (United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion) says Internet shutdowns are against international human rights laws. Access to information is crucial to people and to freedom of the media. Khan says that the gap is not in law and standards, but in its implementation and compliance. Social media platforms and Internet providers have a big responsibility when it comes to human rights.

Ms Jayathma Wickramanayake (United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth) says online violence is increasing. Human rights violations in digital space during the pandemic have been more visible than ever, especially when concerning people with disabilities. Since youth activism is on the rise, it also means that a human-based approach to designing technologies is important.

Mr Nick Read (Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone Group) provided three important suggestions on how digital technology can play a role in building the future:

1. Acceleration: making digital tools permanent and accessible;

2. Co-operation: coming together with clear and urgent goals;

3. Refocusing investment into digital technology: for closing digital divides at a time when many governments are investing in recovering and reconstructing society.

● Where do we stand on better protection for women and girls from online harassment?

In Sweden, studies have shown that cyber harassment is an underlying problem aimed at women and girls; but especially at a certain group of women such as female journalists, female politicians, and female human rights defenders. Suicides increase due to sexting blackmails. Social media actors must play an active role against discrimination against women and girls. Online attacks on women are often followed by offline violence. This silences women. Criminalising gender and sexual-based violence is important, says Khan. Wickramanayake spoke about the ‘MeToo’ movement as an example of how powerful an online community can be when it stands behind (women) survivors. Read said that companies have a role in spreading harmful or illegal content that they host.

● How do access and privacy correlate?

People need to be in control of their data. Sommaruga invited participation in the UN sponsored World Data Forum in Bern (3-6 October). While privacy is important, the right to safe communication free from harassment and abuse is important as well, says Khan. Governments are constantly investigating ‘questionable behaviour’. It is possible simultaneously to uphold the right to privacy and also investigate and remove harassment. Being born as digital natives, modern youth is exposed to privacy violations by default, says Wickramanayake. Youth often do not know the risks that come with digital technologies or simply do not have a choice in protecting privacy or data. For this reason, mistrust grows towards governments and private companies. Vodafone has always supported privacy and rights in the digital space. Read notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments succeeded in harnessing the power of data; however, others have made compromises with the privacy of their own citizens.

Ms Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer, Facebook) said that the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation can protect the best of the Internet. Facebook is committed to the UN human rights principles. Facebook will play its part ‘openly and responsibly’.

Mr Joe Steele (Acting Executive Director, Access Now) called for three concrete actions: – an end to non-consensual data collection, usage. storage, and sale – a new pledge to bring everyone online meaningfully – an end to shutdowns and unlawful censorship.


3. Protect — Combating cyber threats and harms for the most vulnerable, including children.


H.M. Queen Silvia, Sweden, expressed deep concern to growing threats to children online, describing a significant increase of online sexual abuse since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Last November, a round table on artificial intelligence and child sexual abuse was been convened, in which she stated that ‘Governments and tech companies can do much more to protect children online. I want all children to have access to all that technologies have to offer, but in a safe way.’ Last year, the UN broadband commission proposed recommendations and a universal child online declaration. She called for prioritisation of child online protection.

The first Kids Online Costa Rica report shows that boys and girls receive more violent content and face more violence than older generations. This data aids in the design of effective policies. ‘We need to address and eradicate hatred and violence especially for girls and adolescents. This will bring to inclusion, equality, and solidarity’, said Ms Epsy Campbell Barr (Vice President, Costa Rica). Governments, technology companies, and humanitarian organisations need to work together to fight the harmful spread of misinformation and to maintain the right to information.

Use of social media in humanitarian crises often plays a crucial role, says Mr Peter Maurer (President, International Committee of Red Cross). In order to deliver on their mandate, the Red Cross holds data for children in detention and children migrants, ‘extremely sensitive data’. Maurer called for ensuring the highest protection standards of data, claiming that one in three online users have had their profile hacked and one in five children skip school due to cyberbullying and online violence. Online predators are taking advantage of the lockdown during the pandemic to approach children online.

Ms Sinead Bovell (Futurist and Founder, WAYE) says that Internet security is the first line of defence. International regulation on cybersecurity plays the biggest role.

Mr Brad Smith (President, Microsoft) calls for building stronger safeguards, having more people in place when it comes to private companies, and making larger investments in research. Conversation beyond nations is important. Cyber-attacks, including those directed towards healthcare facilities, and other online harms are rising. Women and young girls are experiencing abuse on the Internet. We must connect, respect, and protect all people in the digital age.