[WSF-Discuss] The Internet Social Forum and Is There a Global Internet Community?

Michael Gurstein gurstein at gmail.com
Thu Apr 2 05:58:12 CDT 2015


An initiative towards an Internet Social Forum
<http://www.internetsocialforum.net/>  (ISF) with a close association to the
World Social Forum <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Social_Forum>   (WSF)
was launched by a number of Civil Society organization at the WSF in Tunis.
This specific initiative comes out of a continuing history of discussions
and initiatives in the area of Global Internet Governance as flowing from
the World Summit of the Information Society <http://www.itu.int/wsis/> .
This World Summit had two major outcomes-one a continuing if rather
ineffectual set of processes concerned overall with the use of Information
and Communications Technologies in support of Economic and Social
Development. This which will reach some sort of culmination at a global
summit (WSIS + 10 <http://www.itu.int/wsis/implementation/2014/forum/> )
later in 2015. 

 

A second outcome and a rather more consequential set of activities concerns
the way in which the global Internet would or would not be subject to some
form of global "governance" intervention and particularly in support of the
broad public interest.

 

I won't go into the extremely lengthy and somewhat convoluted history of the
"governance" outcome of the WSIS except to say that the formal element of
this outcome by means of what is known as the Internet Governance Forum
<http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/>  has adopted as its compulsory mode of
operation and as its anchor framing and normative concept the notion of
"Multi-stakeholderism
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multistakeholder_governance_model> " (MSim).
MSism is understood by its proponents as being the necessary mode for the
on-going "governance" of the Internet in all of its various aspects
including technical areas (where the notion has very considerable validity)
but also including public policy areas where there is a clear attempt to
substitute MSism and the highly determining role of the corporate sector as
partner "stakeholders" as a substitute for democratic governance.  There is
also clear evidence to suggest the intention by global elites to build on
the "success" of MSism in the Internet area as a pilot and model for
imposing this as the preferred mode of governance in There has been very
considerable discussion and critique of this approach most particularly
pointing to its fundamental basis in introducing a neo-liberal governance
model
<https://gurstein.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/the-multistakeholder-model-neo-li
beralism-and-global-internet-governance/>  into the very core of the
Internet and more particularly the only partially disguised attempt to
substitute "multistakeholder" governance for democratic governance as the
fundamental approach to governance in broader areas of global governance
<http://www.aspeninstitute.org/news/2012/04/24/idea-report> .

 

A notable and somewhat bizarre feature of the Internet Governance stream of
activities is the degree to which many self -described Civil Society
individuals and organizations are active supporters of the multistakeholder
governance models and the current Internet Governance status quo with its
dominance by the US and its national and corporate allies.  This has been
partially explained (and justified) by pointing to the successes that have
been achieved using the MS model in the inclusion of Human Rights and
particularly rights of free expression and association as elements in
broader Internet Governance activities and norm setting.  While to a degree
this is correct it should also be noted that there is strong support for
these "Rights" from such well known global defenders of Civil Society values
as the US State Department for whom support for "Internet Freedom
<http://www.state.gov/netfreedom/> " (understood as "Freedom of speech on
the Internet") is both a strategic and a tactical tool in its quest for
geo-political, economic and security/surveillance global dominance..  

 

Equally while there has been considerable success in implanting strong
support for Rights of free expression and association in various Internet
Governance normative documents it is worth pointing out that among the
strongest supporters of these have been various Internet giants such as
Google and Facebook for whom these rights are central elements of their
business model.  Notably there has been no similar CS successes resulting
from "Multistakeholder collaboration" in areas such as making Intellectual
Property rights or Copyright issues to be more reflective of a broad public
interest. 

 

What is equally notable is that these Civil Society supporters of the MS
governance model have chosen to ignore or even actively suppress other areas
of Human Rights concerns notably those supportive of Social Equity and
Social Justice  which of course, and again purely coincidentally are not of
any particular interest to the other partners in the various
Multistakeholder collaborative structures which are being actively pursued.
The overall consequence of the above is that those from Civil Society who
have a concern for democracy and social justice
<http://justnetcoalition.org/>  as constituent elements of Internet
Governance and an Internet Governance global system have had to struggle
initially and directly with those elements of Civil Society (and their
supporters for example in certain otherwise pro-CS governments) who have
chosen to align themselves with the Multistakeholder governance model and
its corporate and governmental proponents among the currently dominant
actors in Global Internet Governance. It is perhaps not again purely
coincidental that among those most actively supportive of the current global
Internet Governance status quo are those most directly benefiting from
ubiquitous Internet based surveillance, the full frontal attack on privacy,
the massive schemes for tax avoidance by the Internet giants and the
uncontrolled stampede towards zero hour contracting, and the Internet
enabled acceleration in the concentration of wealth and power in fewer and
fewer hands.

 

A more recent developments in the area of global Internet Governance has
been NetMundial <http://netmundial.br/>  (NM) a global multistakeholder
event sponsored by the Government of Brazil and ICANN
<https://www.icann.org/> , a major global player in the technical aspects of
Internet governance, directly precipitated by the Snowden revelations
particularly those concerning surveillance of Pres. Rousseff of Brazil
herself. Strangely the NM event completely avoided addressing even
indirectly, surveillance issues and perhaps even more notably from a CS (and
Brazilian) perspective failed to address or include any issues or matters of
concern for Internet and Social Justice or even ICT for Development.  

 

An immediate follow-on from the NM event has been a World Economic Forum,
ICANN and Brazil (CGI.br) sponsored NetMundial Initiative
<https://www.netmundial.org/>  which, while still in the process of
self-definition, is directed towards carrying on and deepening through
practice and research the Multistakeholder governance legacy of the original
NM event.  Among the active partners in this with the World Economic Forum
and ICANN have been the Government of Brazil and the Association for
Progressive Communications <http://www.apc.org/>  (APC) along with a limited
number of other "civil society" organizations.

 

The Coordination Committee of the NetMundial Initiative recently met and
listening remotely, I was moved to write a blogpost
<https://gurstein.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/is-there-a-global-internet-commun
ity/>  concerning what appears to be the keystone normative concept behind
the NMI and  ultimately that of Multistakeholderism overall-the notion of a
"Global Internet Community".  The blogpost asks the question
<https://gurstein.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/is-there-a-global-internet-commun
ity/> Is there A Global Internet Community (and what are the implications of
a fundamental belief in the existence of this entity for the development of
the democratic governance of the Internet and as a tool supportive of social
equity and social justice).

 

Mike Gurstein

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