School of Communications Faculty-Student Team Conducted Research at World Internet Forum

An eight-person team that included two faculty members, four students and two staff members did research and reporting at the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Nov. 9-16. The conference was administrated by the United Nations. The group represented Elon's Imagining the Internet Project. Partial funding for the trip was provided by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

School of Communications faculty members Janna Quitney Anderson and Connie Book led the initiative.

>> Click here to access the daily reporting and videos produced by the School of Communications team

Anderson oversaw reporting on the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), writing articles for North Carolina newspapers and the Imagining the Internet Web site, and working with students and staff members to produce a series of daily video reports on the issues that make up the agenda of the forum. (Click here to read Anderson's article in the Nov. 11 Raleigh News & Observer)

Book led the data-gathering for a survey of the more than 2,000 people from around the world who have gathered to discuss critical Internet issues at IGF, an event facilitated by the United Nations to allow people to come together to discuss the future of the Internet and their hopes and concerns about this evolving technology.

The first IGF took place in Athens in 2006, and was attended by Anderson, student Erin Barnett and audio producer Bryan Baker. Anderson was a featured speaker on an IGF Rio de Janeiro Dynamic Coalition panel on access and the digital divide that includes Internet protocol co-inventor Vint Cerf, the chief Internet evangelist at Google. As part of her presentation, she showed a 5-minute excerpt from the documentary film that Barnett created from the Athens IGF footage as part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience project at Elon.

Future IGF gatherings are scheduled for India, Egypt, and Lithuania or Azerbaijan.

Elon students who produced the videos and assisted with the Future of Internet Policy survey work at IGF Rio de Janeiro were senior Michele Hammerbacher, junior Anne Nicholson and sophomores Dannika Lewis and Eryn Gradwell. Assisting with photography, video production and technology for the initiative were J. McMerty, coordinator of video projects for the School of Communications, and Dan Anderson, assistant vice president and director of university relations.

The team will explored the following issues:

Access

  • How can we allow more people to connect to the Internet?
  •  What are the infrastructure barriers? What are the cost barriers?
  • What about people in developing countries, rural areas, islands?
  • What about the threat of economic barriers that could impede access to parts or all of the Internet?
  • What about the threat of some nations creating separate Internets that act as "walled gardens" that limit access to other networks?

Diversity

  • The Internet is currently dominated by Western culture and languages, because that is where it got its start. How can we expand the scope and make it more diverse in content?
  • How do we make certain that ICANN and other groups that control the root servers and domain-naming systems of the internet are fair and inclusive? 
  • How can we encourage and support more local, user-generated content? 
  • How can we adapt the technology to reach disabled people? The elderly? The illiterate?

Openness

  • How can we foster freedom of expression?
  •  How can we protect privacy and property rights without limiting freedom of expression?
  • What about the filters imposed by governments?
  • How do we balance the relationships between human rights, private enterprise and government rules?
  • How can we promote open-source software and guard against software monoculture?

Security

  • How do we deal with threats to countries? Businesses? People?
  • What can we do about identity theft?
  • What can we do to deal with cyber crime? Cyber terrorism? Cyber warfare?
  • How can we create laws that cross borders? What are the threats to international relations? 
  • How do we balance the need for authentication vs. the advantages of anonymity?
  • What about the threats against children, abuse and exploitation? Pornography? Scams? Spam? Viruses? Network attacks?

Critical Internet Resources

  • How should the control systems, infrastructure, domain name system and other important mechanisms that allow the Internet to function evolve? Who should control these critical systems?


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