On 25–29 November 2019, Berlin hosted the fourteenth edition of United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Born of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, the annual IGF assembles several thousand participants from across geographical regions and social sectors to deliberate burning questions of the Internet and digital society more generally. This year’s IGF had three headline themes: namely, ‘data governance’, ‘digital inclusion’, and ‘security, safety, stability & resilience’.
As usual, the opening day of the IGF included a symposium of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet). This year’s GigaNet presenters included recent GCR21 fellow Blayne Haggart, who spoke on the governance of global Internet platforms. In addition, GCR21 co-director Jan Aart Scholte and future GCR21 fellow Hortense Jongen presented their findings on legitimacy beliefs toward multistakeholder global governance at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
In the IGF itself, Hortense and Jan convened a workshop concerning ‘Inclusion and Influence in Multistakeholderism at ICANN’. The session was moderated by Manal Ismail (Egypt), Chair of ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee. Speakers included Nandini Chami (India), Deputy Director of IT for Change, Leon Sanchez (Mexico), Vice Chair of the ICANN Board of Directors, and Erika Mann (Germany), Internet entrepreneur and former member of the European Parliament. Around 80 other participants from around the world also attended.
Speaking to the IGF theme of digital inclusion, the workshop addressed questions of structural inequality in multistakeholder global governance of the Internet. As multiple speakers stressed, ‘openness’ in Internet governance is not the same as meaningful participation. In particular, the meeting explored hierarchies of influence in the ICANN regime with regard to age, gender, geography, language, race/ethnicity, and sector. Hortense and Jan had prepared a background discussion paper based on their survey of 467 regular participants in the ICANN regime.
A consensus evident in both the survey and the IGF workshop affirms that inclusive participation is highly important for multistakeholder Internet governance. However, a large majority of people also perceive substantial inequalities at play in ICANN’s multistakeholder processes. Participants especially see unequal influence in respect of language (i.e. fluency or not in English) and the geographical divide between global north and global south. They also see gender inequalities to be especially problematic. Interestingly, the survey results show that people in positions of lesser influence on average perceive larger and more problematic exclusions than people in positions of greater influence. Recognition that this gap in understanding exists may be key to reducing these inequalities in future Internet governance.
Jan Aart Scholte
Digital Governance will be the topic of the Centre's upcoming Quarterly Magazine and include a report from the IGF: 'Internet Governance on the Move'.