Internet Governance

The youth at the IGF 2012 – contending perspectives

As the Baku Expo Center closesits doors following the last IGF-related event, it is now a good time to reflect on some of the aspects that were addressed between 6-9 November in Baku and the various attempts at making the IGF not only a platform for discussion, but also for cooperation and solution-building processes. In my opinion, several main topics took priority on the agenda: cybersecurity, human rights, intellectual property rights, and privacy, to which many workshops were dedicated throughout the 4-day long forum. To a large extent, these were sessions that called for enhanced dialogue and cooperation, but only a few of them employed an innovative format based on building a coalition or network bringing together very active people able to commit to additional capacity building, in particular in emerging economies. 

I recall one exciting session dealing with the ways in which the vulnerable groups across the world can be helped to reap off the benefits of the information society, based on a comprehensive approach to assess the needs of local communities and interaction with public authorities and public institutions, to extend and adjust the available local resources and make them sustainable. The discussion also highlighted the limited extent to which collaborative solutions and partnership are communicated to the vulnerable themselves, which makes the awareness raising campaigns both a means of spreading information and a concerted effort to  sharing best practices. Input was also given to the youth as a target group in a vulneable situation, and to the new ethos of an ‘engaged citizen’, revived in the example of the Arab Spring mass demonstrations, or the Occupy Wall Street  and Indignados movement. One feature that kept being being emphasized in the IGF meeting was the need to build more bridges and to run more effective programs with trusted institutions, non-governmental organizations and companies. 

As more and more people go online (more than 2 billion currently), we should be highly motivated to think ‘outside the box’ and outside of conventional frameworks to decrease the inequalities that our contemporary information society portrays. That also implies using evolving definitions for disadvantaged groups, which might reflect both those unable to benefit from the internet expansion, and those unable to participate on an equal footing in its governance. Right now, the youth seems to exhibit multiple vulnerabilities that can be spotted in the different entry points. As Markus Kummer put it, on the internet, the rules for the ‘digitally native’ are still made by the ‘digital immigrants’, and that might need to change very soon. At the IGF 2012 the youth presence was felt in the dynamic coalitions and networks of interest – with the involvement of initiatives such as the ISOC Ambassorship to the IGF- , but more remains to be done in the sphere of high-level politics.