Global efforts need to be stepped up to address an increase in cross-border cyberattacks, hate speech and security breaches, according to the more than 6,000 delegates that took part in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that concluded today in Berlin.

The five-day multi-stakeholder forum saw agreement that there was urgency for building frameworks founded in basic human rights as essential to ensure an open and free internet. The Internet Governance Forum, meeting from 25 to 29 November, provided participants with a dynamic platform to present ideas and propose solutions on how to tackle a variety of cyber issues such as hate speech, internet security and infrastructure, and trust.

At the Forum, UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the upcoming appointment of a dedicated United Nations Technology Envoy and committed United Nations efforts in tackling the digital challenges that come with ‘technological developments unfolding at a speed with no parallel in human history.’

And today, the Secretary-General renewed the membership of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group that is tasked with advising on the programme and schedule of the Internet Governance Forum meetings. The Group consists of members from all stakeholder groups and all regions, representing governments, civil society, the private sector and technical community. A total of 50 members, 8 among them new, have been appointed and will start preparations for the fifteenth meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in 2020, planned for 2-6 November 2020 in Katowice, Poland, under the theme ‘Internet United’. Mr. Guterres has also appointed Ms. Anriette Esterhuysen of the Republic of South Africa ‎as the new Chair of the Internet Governance Forum’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group, starting in 2020.

During the closing ceremony, Ms. Esterhuysen called for inclusive and equal governance with more representation from women, youth, and persons with disabilities, calling their participation vital, and stating that the Internet Governance Forum should continue to be the space to have open discussions about the fragmentation we see in the digital world.

Mr. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs, highlighted that the national, regional and youth IGF initiatives – over 120 organic and independent formations from various regions and countries discussing issues pertaining to Internet Governance  –  should be further recognized, as they are expanding the inclusive multi-stakeholder Internet dialogue in a bottom-up manner.

Several world leaders addressed the Forum, in person or by pre-recorded statements. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, stressed the need to talk about the values of internet governance: ‘We need to agree on how to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the digital age, how to strengthen equal participation and security in the network, and how to build trust in the network.’

And New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, recalled the Christchurch terrorist attack in March where the internet was weaponized ‘with deliberate efforts to make the [live-streamed] video go viral and to subvert efforts to find and to remove it.’ Over 40 countries, along with some of the world’s biggest technology companies, have since supported the Christchurch Call to Action, aimed at eliminating terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Participants argued for greater cooperation between civil society, governments and technology companies to ensure respect for freedom of speech while at the same time prevent the spread of disinformation and hateful messages. In a digital future where we already see the manipulation of data easily that crosses borders, compromise elections and undermine trust in the internet, there was consensus in that global challenges need global solutions.

Other examples on how communities spearhead the safeguarding of  the Internet was a new initiative from the World Wide Web Foundation called Contract for the Web, announced on opening day by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, who stated ‘“Never before has the web’s power for good been under more threat.’ Created by representatives from over 80 multi-stakeholder organizations, the Contract sets out commitments to guide digital policy agendas and serve as a roadmap for the web we want. Sounding the alarm over what he called a ‘digital dystopia’, he stated that ‘Everyone must cooperate in this fight for the future.’ Over 160 companies had already endorsed it, and by the end of the Forum, signatories had risen to nearly 1,000.

Global participation

In order to ensure global participation, remote hubs were set up that allowed people to attend all the sessions and pose questions online, with over 60 per cent of users from the global south. Sessions were also live-streamed and translated into the six official UN languages plus German. In addition to hosting the Forum, the German government also donated US$ 1.65 Million to support and encourage the participation of the Global South over the next three years, to ensure they have opportunities to take part in the discussions.

The Forum also saw strong female participation with 53 per cent female speakers at the panel discussions, and 43 per cent women attending the sessions in person.

In closing, Mr. Liu assured the Government of Poland, host of the 15th Internet Governance Forum, that the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs stands ready to provide full support to carry forward the IGF’s mandate.