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Implicit Inequalities and Internet Governance 4.0

Thu, August 29, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hilton, Columbia 4


As we approach the fourteenth birthday in 2019 of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), an innovation in the internet governance arena, this study argues that we are entering Internet Governance 4.0 and presents data indicating implicit inequalities that continue to challenge the conduct of internet governance.

Internet Governance 4.0 reflects the latest of four different governance eras shaped by factors including technologies, geopolitics, and idea diffusion. The 1.0 version of Internet governance involves a single nation-state government with responsibility for the incipient Internet: the U.S. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Next comes the 2.0 version where primary responsibility shifts to the U.S. Department of Commerce and to a more economic (as opposed to solely security) and globally focused view. The creation of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), founded in 1998, marks the start of this 2.0 era. The catalytic events leading to the 3.0 era include the 2014 Netmundial meeting and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s announcement of its intention to transition the U.S. government’s “stewardship” of the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). Currently we are in the 2019 4.0 era in which there are newer technologies such as artificial intelligence powering the Internet (e.g. Internet of Things); a more globally focused ICANN; the rise of platform governance; and renewed emphasis on nationalism in some areas. At the same time, additional internet governance related innovations are taking the stage including the United Nation’s Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Internet Cooperation, and a renewed and ever-morphing focus on cybersecurity in a range of venues.

During each of the ‘eras’ highlighted, numerous research lenses have been powerfully applied to the study of internet governance, and especially (since Internet Governance 2.0) to the diffusion of the multistakeholderism idea (Raymond and Denardis, 2015). Yet much less attention has been paid to the study of implicit (and even explicit) inequalities. While there is important work detailing digital divides of many kinds (such as developing countries or gender), there is less work focused on the intersection of human rights and the internet (with the exception of the work of the Council of Europe and two IGF Dynamic Coalitions, “Gender and Internet Governance” and “Internet Rights and Principles”, both formally established in 2009). See Schia, 2018 and Mueller and Badiei, 2018 for related research. Additionally, there is research on implicit bias in other fields (Greenwald & Banaji,2017).

This paper provides contemporary findings that illuminate implicit inequalities, especially focused on Internet Governance 4.0. Research questions include who or what is a stakeholder? Who determines a stakeholder and what accountability exists? What roles do they play in the fora studied here? Is the idea and practice of multistakeholderism relevant in an era of renewed nation-state focus and increasing turbulence regarding global Internet Governance issues and opportunities? And most of all what implicit and explicit inequalities exist in these settings?

Using cross-disciplinary conceptual frameworks from Science, Technology, Society (STS); political science; sociology; and communication (especially cross-cultural communication) studies, this paper highlights issues revolving around mutistakeholderism as a mode of disparity alleviation regarding those who come to the table to discuss vital (in both economic and societal implications) internet governance issues. The methods used in this study include comparative document analysis covering the period of 2016-2019 from three internet governance related venues: the Internet Governance Forum’s ‘Best Practice Forums’ with a focus on the cybersecurity and human rights fora; the United Nation’s Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Internet Cooperation, and the U.S. Government’s National Telecommunications and Information Agency’s (NTIA) call for and receipt of comments on “International Internet Priorities for 2018 and Beyond”.

The paper concludes with recommendations for additional research stemming from the findings reported here including recognition of this study’s constraints as well as the need for additional Global South and feminist data analyses and perspectives.

Works Cited
Greenwald, A.G. and Banaji. M. R. 2017. The Implicit Revolution: Reconceiving the Relation between Conscious and Unconscious. American Psychologist.
Raymond, M., & DeNardis, L. 2015. Multistakeholderism: Anatomy of an Inchoate Global Institution. International Theory, 7(3).
Mueller, M. and F. Badiei. 2018. Requiem for a Dream: On Advancing Human Rights via Internet Architecture. Policy & Internet.
Schia, N. 2018. The Cyber Frontier and Digital Pitfalls In The Global South. Third World Quarterly. 39 (5).


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