Report from the 2018 Internet Governance Forum - "Internet of Trust" - citizens and government explore the balance in Paris

Recently, Electronic Frontiers Australia was generously granted $2,500, by Google, for a Board Member to attend the 2018 Internet Governance Forum in Paris, between the 12th and 14th of November. Someone was going to draw the short straw to attend the forum, and that person was me.

This was the first global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) I have attended, and initially, I was unsure what to expect. I attended the last Australian Regional Internet Governance Forum (RIGF), and expected this event to be similar. As a member of a group working on reigniting an Australian RIGF, I hoped that this trip would inspire, and provide ideas that could be instituted for the Australian RIGF.

What blog posts mention Paris without a photo of the Eiffel Tower?

Was the venue, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), simply a convenient location, or was it more symbolic? That question was answered by the second session, where a member of the Russian Foreign Ministry was blaming the United States for not agreeing to Russia's proposed resolution to a code of conduct for state activity in cyberspace (I later found out that the Russians refuse to agree to the US proposed resolution for conduct for state activity in cyberspace). Later that night, I was told stories of how the Chinese would inhibit Taiwanese delegates from attending each IGF. While I wasn't expecting 3 days of singing Kumbaya, there was much more geo-political gesturing than I expected.

The million dollar view from UNESCO, Paris

The Russians vs the US was just a taste of geo-political gesturing - the featured speaker at the IGF Opening Ceremony was Emmanuel Macron. Macron is an impressive and charismatic orator, however his words echoed many others trying to take control of the internet—something that rightfully should be a resource for all of humanity. Macron's proposal for control involves more regulation for the internet, and removing 'hate speech' and 'fake news'. While removing 'hate speech' and 'fake news' is an admirable intention, the question is who should be the arbiter for defining what hate speech is, what is fake news, and what is opinion? the French? The Americans? Macron continued that states need to "find legal cooperation methods to lift anonymity and find electronic evidence where this exists", and that "Europe and the US need to work towards a legal cooperation agreement" - which leads to the question - what about other countries and states? Macaron explained, in his opinion, the internet could be heading in two polar directions, the 'Californian' model, and the 'Chinese' model - the former based on self-management, and with little governance, and the latter, where governments have strong control, and governments are the ones that drive innovation. Macron's speech was controversial, with several delegates believing he 'went off script', and others believing his speech was a message to the IGF, for the IGF to have measurable outcomes, instead of just being a talkfest.

(the full text of Macron's speech can be found here).


Instead of Macron's proposal of regulating news outlets, to prevent fake news, I am a strong believer in enfranchising citizens to critically analyse what they read, whether it be on the internet, or published in the media. An example of enlightening civilians in fake news is the new UNESCO publication "Journalism, ‘Fake News’ and Disinformation" that was launched at the IGF. "Journalism, ‘Fake News’ and Disinformation" is exemplary of course-work book teaching journalists, political parties, health professionals, business people, scientists, and election monitors, written by experts from around the world, exploring the very nature of journalism with modules on: why trust matters; thinking critically about how digital technology and social platforms are conduits of information disorder; fighting back against disinformation and misinformation through media and information literacy; fact-checking 101; social media verification and combatting online abuse 1.

IGF session on Hidden Aspects of Digital Inclusion

I attended several sessions on the IGF, and RIGF's throughout the three days. There were two sessions that were most memorable. The first session was the reporting of RIGF's from various states. The recurring themes that RIGF's suffered was scalability, finding wider audiences, and getting finances to run those IGFs, the latter resonating with my own experience in Australia. The second session was to answer the question of whether internet governance is now irrelevant, due to today’s internet essentially being a “content distribution network that is very similar to a television broadcast network where the transmission component is limited to the last mile access network”, rather than the peer-to-peer network we all envisaged 15 years ago. This question was posed by Geoff Huston in his blog post “Has Internet Governance become Irrelevant?” 2. (In case you’re wondering, the self-evident answer is “only if we make it”).

Full house for the session Has Internet Governance become Irrelevant?

The topic of this years IGF was titled “Internet of Trust”. Based on Emmanuel Macaron’s speech, citizens will be expected to increasingly trust governments and the UN in regulating the internet. At the open-mic session at the closing ceremony, I emphasised the fact that governments need to garner the trust of their citizens. I gave examples, which indicate a significant number of problems on the internet are caused by governments. I suggested, to engender trust, governments should stop, or at least reduce their dragnet surveillance of civilians on the internet; additionally, governments and the UN can not simply wrest control of the internet, we must persevere with multi-stakeholder opportunities, such as the IGF, and civil-society involvement, in the future of internet governance.

Related Links:
Summary of the thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum
It's time for our annual checkup on the circus that is the Internet Governance Forum
Paris calling: Emmanuel Macron calls on the world to build trust and stability on the Internet

Image Credit:
Emmanuel Macron Official Leweb Photos

This post has been syndicated, and is also available at Electronic Frontiers Australia. Many thanks to Raph Even-Chaim for reviewing and suggesting changes to this post.

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