Global Citizens' Debate on the Future of Internet

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

We, the Internet is a global project co-ordinated by the Paris-based Missions Publiques. The project aims to have the citizens' voices and perspectives heard. Through the deliberative polling technique, around 100 participants are invited to join the dialogue in each partner country. Panels are designed to represent the diversity of the population.

The session at the IGF simulated - on a smaller scale - one of the citizens' dialogues that take place around the world. Mr Antoine Vergne (Director of Strategic Partnerships from Missions Publiques) described how governance can be improved by inputs from citizens, who are not experts, but who have stakes in digital policy issues.

Citizen's dialogue is a process where citizens of various backgrounds and interests are brought together. The goal is to bring citizens into policy. According to Vergne, stakeholders want to have answers from citizens. However, they need more than just a simple poll result, they need quality inputs, which the global debates can provide.

For the set-up of the debates, randomly selected citizens that have no experience on the topic, of various gender, age, educational, and job backgrounds are brought together. They receive balanced information on the topic and work at a full day meeting on selected topics. As an outcome, the meeting generates informed opinions that are brought to decision makers and stakeholders.

We, the Internet project was launched in 2018. After twelve preliminary discussions, five workshops were run on specific topics. In October, five groups of about 100 citizens worked on issues of Internet governance, misinformation, and digital identity. They gathered in Rwanda, a refugee camp in Bangladesh, Japan, Germany, and Brazil. The goal for the next year is to repeat these debates in 100 more countries.

Ms Morgane Fleury (Missions Publiques) divided the session participants into four groups to simulate the debate. The simulation - on a topic of disinformation - provided an idea of what citizens experienced in the debates. The kick-off questions included: Do you feel exposed to a lot of disinformation? How confident are you that you can identify news or information that misrepresent reality or is even false? Along the way, Fleury explained the process of the citizen's debates.

Looking back at some results from the global debates on the issue of misinformation, it became clear that this topic is of a lot of relevance for many participants. While 53% of respondents considered the spread of misinformation problematic for them, 86% considered it problematic for the world. Results obviously differed from location to location, for instance, the refugee camp participants were not willing to provide too much in writing. Political situations are different in every country, so using the same protocol produces different results.

How to tackle disinformation? Education is the key, as it came out from the global debates.

By Tereza Horejsova

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