The official sessions of the 2013 Internet Governance forum are just getting started in Bali, but LSE Media Policy Project’s own contributor, Alison Powell, has been attending the preparatory events. Here is Alison’s short report from the events so far.
The preparatory workshops attempt to highlight important or controversial issues in advance of the formal start to the IGF. The Internet Science workshop, which tried to investigate how we might develop metrics for measuring multi-stakeholderism in internet governance, along with Twitter coverage of Ron Diebert’s participation in the “High Level Meeting” revealed a lot of snark and suspicion about the concept of multi-stakeholderism. A few things were repeated over and over: “every stakeholder is equal, but some are more equal than others”, and various jokes about how the only people to claim that they were being ‘multi-stakeholder’ were the ones who didn’t really believe that anyone except their organization should actually run anything related to the internet.
In terms of ‘real numbers’ there are apparently more participants identified as ‘civil society’ at this IGF than there have been at any previous one. The issue is that no one knows to what extent this identification means that the participants are representing civil society interests, nor what those interests might be. One of the key themes that emerged at the GigaNet academic conference was the fact that multi-stakeholder processes do not do a very good job of representing the range of interests that are actually in play in internet governance. For example, my paper discussed the SOPA and ACTA protests and argued that these seemingly unexplained expressions of citizen participation are actually an indication that there is much greater interest in maintaining a free and open internet than is recognized by the formal multi-stakeholder processes of the IGF.
Slightly contrary to what some predicted, the Edward Snowden revelations are not exactly the elephant in the room, at least not in the preparatory workshops. Several times people have mentioned the lack of legitimacy for continuing the current arrangements vis a vis ICANN. The problem is that with the recent US government shut down, there are far fewer US government officials (and US participants in general) than previously. So the issues and criticism are definitely heard and felt, but there is no straightforward way to address it.
Quite a lot of leaders who I thought would be important participants turn out not to be here this year, including Neelie Kroes. Some countries that used to send entire delegations don’t have official representation, while others like Russia and Poland have larger delegations than before.
I don’t quite know what to make of this – it feels like some countries and decision-makers have decided that the IGF doesn’t matter at all, while others seem to think that it is worth paying attention to, if only as a way to make their voices, unheard until recently, carry more weight. As the official ceremonies start up this afternoon it will be interesting to see how these shifts in power are represented.
This article gives the views of the author, and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics.