Elon University

Workshop: Social Media and Internet Governance

IGF Egypt 2009 Logo

Dynamic coalition formed to address key challenges of Web 2.0

(Note: no video or still photography was recorded at this session due to restrictions placed on such by the government of Egypt the morning of Nov. 18, when Suzanne Mubarak visited the IGF.)

Workshop description: This workshop focused on the emergence and likely evolution of social media and social networking and the various legal issues that have arisen on the intersection between social media and Internet governance. As social media is empowering more and more people, Internet governance is likely to have a direct impact in terms of its further growth. Recent global events have shown that the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter is empowering people to communicate effectively to a global audience in new ways. This discussion noted many of the complex legal challenges arising in the realm of social media and Internet governance.

Participants in the discussion included: Pavan Duggal, president and founder of Cyberlaws.net; Desiree Miloshevic, international affairs and policy adviser, Afilias; Lee Hibbard, media and information division of the Council of Europe; Rachel O’Connell, vice president of people networks and chief safety officer for Bebo.

November 18, 2009 – Pavan Duggal, president of Pavan Duggal Associates, shared a presentation outlining a number of the key issues. “Social media is the next paradigm shift, definitely,” he said. “Is it one of the next killer apps after e-mail? Definitely. There are questions surrounding user-generated content, uses of user-generated content and the storage of content.

“Trust is a big thing. Protecting the privacy of netizens is important. Identity theft is going to go big-time as more users come onto the Internet. Do we have a right to be anonymous on social media? What about the right to oblivion [the concept that your data should remain online in the form you have stored it there, accessible and complete]? The right to delete? I can have a right to oblivion without the right to delete. The right of purging children-generated data – the Internet has to give the child the room to grow. Then there is the right to forgive and forget. Cyberharassment, cyberannoyance, cyberdefamation all get extended support by social media. These are issues that have not yet been addressed. There are no methods available for effective settlement of disputes in social media.”

Duggal said there’s a lack of any international consensus on social media regulation. “The Internet, when it was created, was different,” he said. “New rules need to be set up for the new playing field. More people are joining social media and this is strengthening the Internet. Who owns user-generated content? How do social media sites plan to monetize the content? The main themes of Internet governance all find dimensions in social media. They represent a vibrant living model of various legal principles on which today the Internet is based. It is important to provide an institutionalized platform for considering these issues.”

The workshop was planned extremely well in advance to propose the start of a dynamic coalition through IGF to study and develop approaches to dealing with people’s use of social networks. “We need to come up with a dynamic coalition as a starting point for debate and analysis of issues impacting social media and Internet governance,” Duggal said.

He proposed a series of tasks for such a coalition and said the legalities of the Internet are now in the process of evolution. “If you were to write a book about the law and social media, we are in the first chapter on the third or fourth page,” he said. “We should have webinars and live events and create further awareness of the complicated scenarios surrounding the legalities of social media. We don’t want us or anyone else to be a prisoner of our activities we perform in social media.”

Lee Hibbard of the Media and Information Society Division of the Council of Europe said policymakers are trying to define the phenomenon of social media. “Ministers invited the Council of Europe to look at social media and what it means,” he said. “The Court of Human Rights makes decisions daily. It has been working to promote and protect freedom of expression in particular. This conference happened in part because of social media.

“Is it media, as we know it, which is covered by the court? The work is to define what social media is and to understand it. Does Facebook, does Google make media? Are they at the same level of responsibilities? We’re mapping that, and it’s quite a challenge.

“In the pan-European space we had a EuroDIG event, and we looked at social media – 200 people from different parts of Europe. There was quite a concern over data and ceding your rights online. One person said ‘I don’t know how to delete my profile, but I will cede my rights in order to use social media.’

“I don’t have any answers for you yet. There must be a tipping point somewhere. I wonder when we will be aware and demand something more from social media. In the European space, in France they had a law about cutting access to the Internet and there was a lot of debate about whether that was proportionate.”

Desiree Miloshevic, international affairs and policy adviser for Afilias, a company that runs top-level domain services, said it is important to set the scene when considering social media. “In the digital age, we have almost reached the end of forgetting, there is no differentiation between public and private space, and what happens when your private life may be exposed online, for instance, and you may not be able to get a job? Social media are constantly renegotiating social norms. We may be constantly censoring ourselves as we express ourselves. How do we negotiate these social norms, censor ourselves, deal with all of this information?

She noted that there are questions about the legal structures to deal with this. “We have no relevant organizations to tend to the gaps,” she said. “In terms of finding models to deal with legal issues and some of the phenomena we are dealing with there might be the development of a new institution to deal with national and international content hosting. Because of the liquid nature of data, we know it’s almost impossible to delete information, for instance.”

The industry representative on the panel was Rachel O’Connell of Bebo. She chairs and coordinates the European social networking task force, a multistakeholder group established in association with the European Commission to work toward safer social networking.

“We came up with a number of principles to ensure education, to implement safe experiences for young children online,” she said. “We undertook to increase the transparency of our work. You can see that of the 18 companies participating every single one of us have declared how we have implemented each of the principles. The self-declarations are being assessed by independent experts.

“I’d like to highlight the importance of the notion that yes there has been a paradigm shift. In education the importance of online collaborative spaces is critical. Social networks replicate the desires of governments for their young people to become participants in the knowledge economy. Governments’ strategies are embracing encouraging young people to become members of the knowledge economy. There have been concerns that people do not understand what privacy guidelines are and awareness about that is important. We need to ensure we factor in the effect of the paradigm shift in framing what is and what is not acceptable. I do agree we need to have a forum in which we can bring these issues up together.”

When the discussion was opened to the floor, ICANN board member Jean-Jacques Subrenat was one of several speakers to bring up a point. “What is the larger context?” he asked. “On this living, breathing planet we have lessons to learn from the current economic crisis. We have just gone through the first phase of a major backlash. There are two results. One is a major financial disruption. The real economy has suffered terribly. When you speak of economic rebound, look at China and also India. There’s one main lesson to be derived from this disruption. Self-regulation has shown it was not able to stop, for instance Lehman Brothers. We have to be much more prescriptive. This is exactly the right time for us to be doing something in order to bring forward this new paradigm and internationalize this new paradigm. It is much more important than ever now to include the paradigms being built in China, India and so on, and the multistakeholder model is what will make the difference in concentrating more on human development and less on corporate profit.”

– Senior segment producer, Janna Anderson
Additional reporting by Andie Diemer, Eugene Daniel,
Shelley Russell, Drew Smith and Dan Anderson

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