IGF 2021 Daily 2

Tuesday, 7 Dec

Welcome to IGF Daily 2!

Dear reader, 

The IGF2021 with the theme Internet United is officially on! Online and in Katowice, attendees are discussing the burning issues in internet governance and we are bringing you the main points discussed on the first day: youth involvement and the protection of children online, freedom of expression, and meaningful access to the internet.

Like what you’re reading? Bookmark us at https://dig.watch/event/igf2021 and tweet us via @genevagip.

Stay safe,

Andrijana, Pavlina, and the Digital Watch team

Recapping yesterday’s discussions

The theme of the IGF – Internet United – echoed throughout the speeches delivered at the opening ceremony. The internet enables us to connect with each other, reminded Mr Andrzej Duda, president of the host country, Poland. Mr Antonio Guterres (UN Secretary-General) reiterated this, noting that the internet enables millions of people worldwide to work, study, and socialise safely online. Yet the digital divide – between those who have access to the internet and those who do not – is expanding; misinformation is spreading; the internet is being used as a weapon for state-sponsored cybersecurity attacks. These challenges should also unite us in solving them through establishing effective rules to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Youth involvement and protection of children online

The rights of future generations are increasingly important in the discussions on climate change, human rights, and internet governance. The involvement of youth in the IGF has expanded from uniquely youth initiatives to include discussions on the rights of young people and children and their involvement in shaping the future of internet policy and digital solutions. 

Youth form the largest stakeholder group in the internet: 70% of internet users are youth. However, it is not common to involve them in the development of future solutions. Younger generations are often under-represented in such forums, even though they are one of the main driving forces behind the rapid adoption and use of technology. 

The main challenge with youth involvement is the imbalance between their representation in internet governance forums and the impact current discussions will have on their future. The solutions lie in adopting new processes to expand youth participation and the diversity of approaches to legislation which include future rights. The participation of youth in digital governance discussions could be improved by adopting new governance models, enhancing the capacity development of youth, and fostering stakeholder support. 

The protection of children and their rights in the online environment, as users with the longest lifespan online, has evolved over the last decade from self-regulation and co-regulation by tech companies to governments passing new laws to ensure a safe online space. The design of the new legislation on online child protection is a complex, cross-sectional effort that must honor the human rights obligations of the states. The concept of dialogic regulation – sharing the legal responsibility between the government, industry, and civil society in achieving child safety online is a novel approach that offers clear possibilities for improvement.

Freedom of expression: Error 404 object not found?

Freedom of expression is intrinsically linked to the internet and is a topic in any and all discussions about internet governance. Whether discussing internet shutdowns as the most invasive restriction of freedom of expression online, or limitations on freedom of expression through content policies or lack of meaningful access to the internet, the IGF dedicates many sessions for the stakeholders to share their positions, experiences and solutions to this issue. 

Error 404: Freedom of expression not found is becoming the state of affairs in many countries, it was strongly stated in sessions on Day 2. Internet shutdowns are on the rise, and while they may be temporary in nature, they have devastating long-term consequences, because they can lead the public to accept limitations on their freedom of expression. Governments sometimes use internet shutdowns ostensibly to stop the spread of misinformation and hate speech online. A particularly inspired metaphor likened governments who clamp down on internet access to 'firefighters who first start the building on fire and then start to extinguish it with such brute force that the building collapses'.

It was also noted that not all citizens are particularly concerned about the lack of freedom of expression, as some have higher priorities of solving food and basic housing issues. However, for free expression to prosper, every segment of the population should have equal access to public debate and digital spaces. A follow up discussion should explore whether a higher standard is required to sustain freedom of expression as a democratic prerequisite and how to control hate speech at the same time.

A person with a megaphone in their hand signals the word ‘FREEDOM’ written with a peace sign in place of the ‘O’.

Access, but make it meaningful

Connecting the unconnected is a perennial topic in internet governance discussions, since 40% of the populace worldwide still does not have access to the internet. However, it is also usually underlined that connectivity should be meaningful: Users should not only be able to access the internet, but also to develop and create content. This was underlined multiple times on Day 1 of the IGF, along with assertions that users need to know how the internet works, how to conduct themselves in different digital environments, what their rights and responsibilities on the internet are, how to preserve privacy online, how to use the internet safely, how to buy and sell online, etc.

Important aspects of meaningful access include digital literacy, accessibility, and infrastructure. Infrastructure is particularly important in the African context. 

Users observe a depiction of Wi-Fi connections on a global map.

Yesterday’s discussions in visuals

The infographics below show the most frequently-used words in the sessions we analysed, the most prominent topics and baskets, how the discussions this year used prefixes, and what the most prominent SDGs were.


(Click on the image to open the full-sized interactive version in a new tab/window.) 

Keeping up with IGF 2021: We’ve got you covered
As is customary, we are reporting from IGF sessions and publishing session reports on the Digital Watch observatory. Don’t miss the daily newsletters (you’re reading Daily 2), and the final report. Bookmark https://dig.watch/event/igf2021/  This year, we’re also adding artificial intelligence (AI) to the mix: Diplo’s AI Lab has created an automated system to generate summaries from IGF sessions, which will complement our traditional reporting. To view our automated summaries, follow the links at the bottom of each session report. 

Digital policy around the world

Instagram will roll out new teen-safety tools, including nudging kids towards different topics if they dwell too much on one topic, and encouraging them to take a break. The announcement comes just a day before the company’s CEO is scheduled to testify at a US Senate hearing on protecting kids online. 

US Agencies and the European Commission launched a new dialogue focused on competition policy and enforcement in the technology sector. Based on the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division, the US Federal Trade Commission, and the European Commission will coordinate policy and enforcement efforts to reign in Big Tech.