The importance of being Earnest, a good internet citizen

7 Dec 2021 13:30h - 14:30h

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Event report

The internet is constantly growing and every day new users are coming online. The pandemic has certainly accelerated this growth. Almost 60% of people worldwide have internet access, which is a significant increase from a few years ago. The session covered the topic of universal access and meaningful connectivity from the point of view of three continents.

What is needed to connect the remaining 40% of the world population? Is providing access the only thing? Can digital citizenship education help with getting the unconnected online? The opinion of the participants of the session was captured in a quiz in which 86% of respondents felt that internet citizenship should be taught to all people, while 14% were not convinced.

Mr Olatunde Awobuluyi (Afrinic) reconfirmed the importance of education and the role of various stakeholders in driving internet citizenship in the African region. With 2,000 languages in Africa, content must be served in a localised form. Mr Eduardo Barasal Morales (Lacnic) also supported this and explained further that digital citizenship is usually understood as responsible use of technology. However, not everybody has internet access, And even if they do, having access is not enough. To use the internet responsibly –to use its true potential –citizens need to go far beyond. There is a need for users to know how the internet works, how to behave 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 on the internet, among many other considerations. Ms Fernanda Rosa (Virginia Tech) connected the issue of citizenship to social rights. Education has progressively become a social right, being of particular relevance in the digital context. Digital literacy is not only about access. The pandemic has further reiterated this, such as considering fake news on the internet and citizens not being able to distinguish credible sources of information.

Another question to the audience assessed feelings about the key elements that constitute internet citizenship and meaningful internet access. Three aspects scored highest: education, accessibility, and infrastructure. Morales is convinced that infrastructure is key. To use the internet, there must be access and for that corresponding infrastructure must exist, and we must be concerned about the quality of local infrastructure. These basics are connected to the users themselves using the internet better and more responsibly. This was supported by Awobuluyi, who reflected that in the African perspective, infrastructure would definitely come quite high up.

Rosa was pleased education scored so high. We should know about infrastructure and where it is located, and where our data is going. We should understand the issue of content moderation, as this is related to the concept of accessibility.

As internet connection is so expensive in Africa, Awobuluyi argued that government policies are another crucial aspect constituting internet citizenship and meaningful internet access. One of the reasons why costs are so high in his region is because there is no real competition. Government policies are becoming very key in this respect.

The last question for audience input was focused on whether internet security and safety practices should be considered part of meaningful access and good citizenship on the Internet. According to 60% of the respondents, it should be included. To 40%, the answer is yes, but only in specific cases. Nobody answered that this is not related to this topic.

Morales called for action by reminding that most users do not know how to manage passwords, cannot distinguish official applications with those from suspicious sources, and do not know the importance of keeping systems up to date. Even more complex security problems involve education and training of end users. It is up to us to make life easier for users. Protocols need to be secure by default, software should update automatically, there must be ease of use with simple interfaces, and we must handle personal data more carefully.

By Tereza Horejsova

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