10 FAQs on Internet Governance

By Michael J. Oghia (GFMD's former Advocacy & Engagement Manager) & Daryna Sterina (GFMD Advocacy & Engagement Assistant, Autumn 2020)

1. What is the Internet / How does it work?

The Internet is actually an abbreviation that stands for an “interconnected network of networks.”

The Internet is built upon the principle of “network architecture,” which corresponds to the grouping of various technologies that enable the Internet to work.

These layers include:

  • The Physical layer (e.g., computers, routers, optic-fibre lines, satellites, etc.)

  • The Protocol layer (e.g., the software protocols that enable devices to communicate to one another as well as both within and across networks, such as TCP/IP and Border Gateway Protocol)

  • The Application layer (e.g., email, the World Wide Web, browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, etc.)

  • The Content layer (e.g., websites, social media, blogs, videos, search engines, etc.)

2. What are the initial, so-called “core values” of the internet?

These are a set of principles that are meant to underpin the technologies that make the Internet possible: Open, Global, End-to-end, User-centric, Interoperable, Decentralised, and Robust & Reliable.

They were developed within a multi-stakeholder initiative called the Dynamic Coalition on Core Internet Values (DC-CIV), but also acted as basic design principles when building the various technologies that would become the Internet since the 1950s (if not before).

  • Open - As a network of networks, any standards-compliant device, network, service, application, or type of data (video, audio, text, etc.) is allowed on the Internet, and the Internet’s core architecture is based on open standards.

  • Global - The Internet is a global medium open to all, regardless of geography or nationality.

  • End-to-end - Application-specific features reside in the communicating end nodes of the network rather than in intermediary nodes, such as gateways, that exist to establish the network.

  • User-centric - End users maintain full control over the type of information, application, and service they want to share and access.

  • Interoperable - Interoperability is the ability of a computer system to run application programs from different vendors, and to interact with other computers across local or wide-area networks regardless of their physical architecture and operating systems. Interoperability is feasible through hardware and software components that conform to open standards such as those used for the Internet.

  • Decentralized - The Internet is free of any centralized control.

  • Robust & Reliable - While respecting best-effort scenarios for traffic management, the interconnected nature of the Internet and its dense mesh of networks peering with each other have made it robust and reliable.

3. What is Internet governance as a concept?

Internet governance (IG) refers to a set of interrelated processes that impacts how the Internet is managed.

What began as a way to develop and manage the technical infrastructure of the Internet, such as software protocols, domain names, and address registries, has morphed into wide-sweeping discussions and processes at the local, national, regional, and international levels that aim to create regulations, laws, policies, rules, norms, and standards applicable to the development and management of one or more layers of network architecture as well as discussions about almost every aspect of society’s relationship to technology – from child protection online to how disinformation is impacting communities.

The official definition, as detailed in the 2005 Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), states the following:

“The development and application by governments, the private sector, and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”

GFMD Guide: How to use your right of access to information (ATI)? (2019)

The Access to Information (ATI) guide is intended to help journalists and media professionals to use their fundamental right of access to public information. Through four steps, the resource seeks to concretely guide journalists as they are requesting information from a public authority.

4. What are stakeholder groups in the context of IG?

One of the foundational principles of Internet governance, as established during the WSIS process, is the multi-stakeholder model. The major stakeholder groups included in this model are governments, civil society, the private sector, the technical community, and academia, but only the first three were officially recognised in the Tunis Agenda. Journalism and News Media are not generally considered an independent stakeholder group, and are typically incorporated into either the private sector or civil society based on whether they are a for-profit or non-profit entity.

5. Why is the multi-stakeholder approach the most relevant to IG?

The multi-stakeholder model within the context of Internet governance refers to an open, inclusive, bottom-up mechanism where all interested individuals and groups can collaborate together based on accountability and transparency to discuss common issues pertaining to the Internet and information and communications technologies (ICTs), while generating robust, holistic solutions based on dialogue and consensus. Although this definition conforms to an ideal, collaborative multi-stakeholder model, the reality of how the Internet is governed tends to replicate entrenched power dynamics.

Despite this reality, it is relevant to the IGF since there is an ever-growing number of stakeholders from across sectors, regions, and communities who want to participate in governance discussions. Perhaps even more importantly, however, is the fact that the Internet is a complex global resource that relies on multiple individuals, organisations, companies, governments, and more for both function and usefulness. Centralising those discussions into one narrow body, such as the government-led International Telecommunications Union (ITU), would severely limit the potential of the Internet, potentially undermine its core values, and stifle its growth and development.

6. Why should civil society be involved?

Civil society was identified as a key stakeholder group in the Tunis Agenda for good reason. The various organisations, groups, and communities that constitute civil society offer unique expertise, represent interests (including special interests that may otherwise have been excluded), champion transparency and accountability of decision-making, and ultimately give voice to communities and individuals.

The latter is especially why civil society’s involvement is so important: as Internet technologies continue to grow, develop, and evolve, affect new parts of society, and include new communities, policy-making and decisions should be inclusive, rights-respecting, and holistic. The diversity of civil society also offers different and unique sets of skills, knowledge, and expert voices, all while being a window into new methods, models, and solutions.

Lastly, one of the most critical roles that civil society plays is defending and promoting human rights; fundamental freedoms such as free expression, press freedom, and access to information; consumer protection; environmental sustainability; good governance; and public and corporate responsibility.

7. How to get involved in IG on the international, regional and local context?

Internet governance may arouse images of people in business suits jetsetting to fancy locals, but the reality is far from this. Internet governance takes place at all levels of governance from local communities and national governments, to international standards bodies and multilateral initiatives. The best way to get involved is to see what is available locally and/or nationally, such as an Internet Governance Forum (IGF). For an extensive list of resources and suggestions for how to get involved, see this guide.

EuroDIG wiki

Internet governance (IG) refers to all of the policies and processes that are shaping the evolution of the Internet. Given the increased reliance of journalists and media outlets on digital technologies, the overall success of media development is now inextricably linked to decisions made at the diverse set of Internet governance bodies. This includes a broad array of topics, such as safeguarding security and privacy online, ensuring content regulation policies uphold human rights, creating effective digital media literacy strategies, and finding responses to digital disinformation campaigns to name a few. These discussions all inform the media development community’s broader goal of ensuring that citizens have access to objective, high-quality information.

8. What is the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)?

The IGF is a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform held under the auspices of the United Nations. Established by the Tunis Agenda and launched in 2006, it facilitates conversations and collaboration between stakeholders regarding Internet policy and emerging trends related to the Internet and ICTs on equal footing, but does not issue recommendations. A series of national, subregional, and regional IGF initiatives (NRIs) feeds into the annual global IGF.

This blog outlines the importance of engaging in international and local fora focused on internet governance, and includes practical suggestions on how to engage in these discussions.

9. What is the Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media?

Established in April 2019 and officially launched in November 2019, the Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media (DC-Sustainability) is an open, multi-stakeholder initiative formally operating within the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It is meant to be a hub for the journalism, news media, press freedom, journalism support, and media development sectors to engage with important Internet governance and digital policy matters. For more information, see the DC-Sustainability Charter.

10. Which policy areas are most relevant in the context of IG for journalism and news media?

Many of the issues discussed within Internet governance processes that are relevant to the journalism and media community can be roughly organised into three broad categories:

1. Freedom of expression

  • Content moderation

  • Cybersecurity

  • Platform moderation

2. Access to information & digital inclusion

  • Copyright

  • Gender

  • Network neutrality

3. Sustainability & economic viability

  • Algorithmic accountability and transparency

  • Antitrust action and media consolidation

  • Digital advertising market dynamics

As an example of how these issues impact journalism and news media, take the issue of the Right to be Forgotten (RTBF) – the umbrella term referencing the scrubbing of personal data from websites, the removal of content from either search engine indexes, or even the entire Internet so that it is not readily accessible to end-users.

This is a principle that was codified into the EU’s Generation Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and is a cross-cutting issue between access to information & digital inclusion as well as sustainability & economic viability.

How so?

Well, while RTBF policy often manifests positively for individual rights (at least within the context of GDPR in Europe), left unchecked, it has the capacity to endanger press freedom by leading to the removal of news articles, disrupting the digital public record, and being wielded by elites to ultimately silence journalists and, in some cases, force small-scale news websites to close by inundating them with requests.

Within the context of Internet governance discussions, it is important for journalists and news media organisations to share their stories with policymakers, courts, and regulatory bodies so that further safeguards and protections for press freedom can be considered going forward.

Moreover, by issuing statements, replying to consultations, building awareness, and uniting together with other stakeholders in solidarity against abuses of RTBF policy are all valuable ways to engage within IG fora/processes on the topic.

For a detailed breakdown of the specific policy areas, see our Issue Paper.

Written by: Michael J. Oghia | Edited by: Mira Milosevic

In partnership with: DW Akademie, CIMA, ARTICLE 19, and IMS

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