(No.120) How to engage users on Internet Policies?

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Workshop Theme: 
Internet Governance for Development [IG4D]
Theme Question: 

Thematic Cluster 2 "Enabling Environment"

Concise Description of Workshop: 

Gradually and slowly as we merge the digital divide, it is possible to envision the Internet as an ultimate leveler, representing one playing field, where, theoretically, everybody has the potential to interact. But how to engage users on political debates? How to use the net to bring them to the negotiation table?
There are indeed, a few examples of Internet serving as a tool for empowerment. In some countries, public sector have been fostering such initiatives, as the case of Iceland, where an online public consultation was held for drafting it's new constitution. Or Brazil, where a several consultations are being held either to discuss digital rights or to monitor implementation of public policies, such as the initiative from the so called “Gabinete Digital”, where citizens where able to demand policies from the governor in a real virtual dialogue.
Entrepreneurship has also played a role in terms of users engagement. As the case of Ushahidi, a remarkable open source web platform, that had allowed users to crowd source information about violent “hotspots” and spreading rampages, which was all sent via email or mobile text-messages, generating an online interactive mapping of the crisis, or the so called “activist mapping”.
Users have also been involved in creative usages of the internet for education and others forms of exercising citizenship. Wikipedia is the most paradigmatic example, once, besides engaging users for the production of content, it was also one of the leaders at SOPA/PIPA online protests. In terms of social news, Reddit is another interesting example.
Nonetheless, there has been no systematic approach or proper exchange of knowledge about mechanisms that are being invented to engage users. Assessments like that are important to evaluate and try to promote other initiatives to empower users.
Therefore, the main goal of this workshop is to discuss and evaluate how open online consultations and users led initiatives have been creating mechanisms to engage users on the Internet Government debates and other initiatives that represent the usage of ICT for political participation. For achieving such goal, this workshop will gather speakers with different experiences on the topic. In a multistakeholder approach, it will gather representatives from governments, companies, the technical community, academia and civil society from both developed and developing countries. Active moderation will foster debate amongst those in Baku and encourage remote interventions.

Backgroung Paper: 
Organiser(s) Name: 

Center for Technology and Society at Fundação Getúlio Vargas
Part of the Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School in Rio de Janeiro, CTS is the only research center in Brazil specifically aimed at dealing with the interplay of law, technology and society. It is engaged in different research and education projects, and committed to interdisciplinary approach. Its collaborations include anthropologists, computer scientists, economists, and media executives.
Among its different projects, the CTS is responsible for helping Brazilian Ministry of Justice to create an online consultation process to debate the privacy law, the internet civil rights framework and is also leading a research to use cybercafes as a platform to implement surveys on public policies assessments at low income communities. CTS also acts as a consultant to several branches of the Brazilian government such as the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, the National Institute of Technology and the Ministry of Education. It is engaged in developing projects to promote access to knowledge, protect digital rights and study the democratization of cultural production through technology.
Access is a NGO premised on the belief that political participation and the realization of human rights in the 21st century is increasingly dependent on access to the internet and other forms of technology. Founded in the wake of the 2009 Iranian post-election crackdown, Access teams with digital activists and civil society groups internationally to build their technical capacity and to help them advocate globally for their digital rights. Access provides thought leadership and practical policy recommendations in the broader field of internet freedom, and based on that expertise mobilizes its global movement of citizens to campaign for an open internet accessible to all.
Access' Global Movement for Digital Freedom is made up of ordinary people from all over the world. Many of them are normal internet users without much experience in either human rights or technology, but understanding that technology can be a powerful platform which gives us all additional strength to achieve greater participation, accountability and transparency.

Submitted Workshop Panelists: 

Jochai Ben-Avie, Director of Operations at Access (NGO, WEOG, confirmed)
Max Senges, Google Inc., US( WEOG, to be confirmed)
Joana Varon, researcher from the Center of Technology and Society, Brazil (Academia, GRULAC, confirmed)
Smàri MacCarthy, innovator and information activist, Iceland (Civil Society, WEOG, remote participation confirmed)
Farid Alakbarov, Wikipedia Azerbaijan (Civil Society, Eastern Europe, confirmed)
João Carlos Caribé, Meganão movement, Brazil (Academia, GRULAC, confirmed)
Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Civil Society, WEOG, confirmed)

Name of Remote Moderator(s): 
Carlos Affonso Pereira de Souza
Gender Report Card
Please estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session: 
About half of the participants were women
To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment?: 
It was not seen as related to the session theme and was not raised
Please include any comments or recommendations you have on how to improve the inclusion of issues related to gender equality and: 

I just wasn't the focus of the panel, even though it was composed by two women, there wasn't enough time to discuss engagement according to minorities and gender issues.

Reported by: 
Joana Varon
A brief substantive summary and the main issues that were raised: 

Final Participants:

  • Jochai Ben-Avie, Director of Operations at Access (NGO, WEO) - moderator
  • Max Senges, Google’s Policy Team in Berlin (WEOG)
  • Joana Varon, researcher from the Center of Technology and Society – CTS/FGV, Brazil (Academia, GRULAC)
  • João Carlos Caribé, Meganão movement, Brazil (Academia, GRULAC)
  • Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Civil Society, WEOG)

The workshop started with a short introduction from Joana Varon, researcher from the Center for Technology and Society, who made an exhibition of a 4min video teaser from the collaborative documentary film project, freenet? film, accessible at http://www.freenetfilm.org/the-project
This short film translate the main concerns of internet freedom defenders into the audio-visual language, willing to engage regular internet users in the debate. It specifically addresses the growing challenges that internet users have been facing to guarantee access to a fast and affordable connectivity, to ensure an open and diverse access to knowledge through online content, to secure privacy rights and freedom of expression online. Presenting such challenges as threats to fundamental human rights, it was the kicking start for the debate about how to engage users about such violations.
Then Max Senges - Google’s Policy Team, made some contributions for the debate bringing examples of some tools that Google have been providing to enable some sort of “user governance” in terms of the company’s actions and freedom of expression. But he also highlighted that users also have the responsibility to respect other people’s right, reason why there is also a need to implement tools for dispute settlement, other ways of settlement in a public arena involving users as citizens in that particular environment.
João Caribé, Brazilian activist who has been working against harmful internet bills stressed that mobilization against the cybercrime bill was stronger than the mobilization in favour of the bill of rights for the internet – for him it is easier to mobilise people against something than in favour of someone’s rights. In order to reach wider approval, it might be important to split the agenda into different points of view just to fit different needs, identify different points of interest to each niche. Also take into consideration that Digital natives and digital immigrants use and understand the internet differently. Watch our the potential we have in hands as Internet turns mobilization easy.
Then Jochai posed the question: Do we have to use different tactics engaging users in a positive or a negative agenda? Twitter has a quick answer approach, so it s easy to start a mobilization. Facebook is a walled Garden, so it is harder to engage.
Jillian York, from EFF, stressed the fact that people won’t care about censorship until it personally affects them.
People mobilized against SOPA and PIPA not because their freedom was in risk, but because their content was in risk. She also addressed the issue of generation, mentioning the term “Napster generation” – different access to content when compared to our parents. In other context, there were other reasons for engagement, but all of them always related to the fear of being directly affected. E.g. Jordan: user’s fear was to be left out of internet access.
Discuss censorship is always very controversial, because, theoretically, governments have the coercive power to implement decisions on censorship, which, in democratic countries would happen after court orders. But it is different when a website, like Youtube, block itself the content, in this case, there is no prior engagement with civil society.
Then there was an interesting antagonism between EFF and Google’s position, as Max Senges stressed that when talking about public policies and freedom of expression we need to think about how to deal with the consequences of this freedom of expression and how it will be taken differently by some groups, which will think that content is funny or some other group that will find it extremely offensive.  He has mentioned that Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft have created the Global Network Initiative – rules and practices to be designed. But Jillian highlighted the fact that the problem is that Global Network Initiative deals with governments and not users. So the question that remained through out the debate was weather if western-based companies should have the power to decide what is a offensive form of expression for other cultures. 

Conclusions and further comments: 

It was an interesting debate that, besides all the questions and challenges to secure online digital rights, endend up focused on the challenges to engage users against violations on the right to freedom of expression online, and the consequences of the lack of such engagement, mainly related to the lack of transparency about how companies proceed regarding decisions about what to block or not. Unfortunately, the panel lost a bit of regional/multistakeholder diversity as there was two unpredicted absences.