IGF 2020 WS #113 Freedom on the Net 2020


Organizer 1: Noah Buyon, Freedom House
Organizer 2: Allie Funk, Freedom House, Freedom of the Net
Organizer 3: Mai Truong, Freedom House

Speaker 1: Babatunde Okunoye, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 2: Gurkan Ozturan, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 3: Sarjveet Singh, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Allie Funk, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Mai Truong, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Noah Buyon, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

This session will touch on a wide range of policy questions that can be grouped as follows: 1. What is internet freedom, and what is its relevance to internet governance? How is it measured, and what inputs can different stakeholders provide to facilitate its measurement? How can policymakers use data about global internet freedom to design rules, etc. that support a free and open internet? 2. What issues are driving the decline in global internet freedom? Which issues have been ameliorated, and which ones have persisted? Why? How have endemic problems such as internet shutdowns and hate speech evolved over time, particularly in response to policy interventions? What new challenges are on the horizon? 3. How can internet governance reverse this decline? What procedures can be put in place to monitor and respond to global internet freedom issues?

Freedom on the Net organizes internet freedom issues into three categories: obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. This workshop will summarize recent changes in these issue areas globally and region-by-region, particularly as they relate to subtheme 4: Trust, Media and Democracy. Panelists and attendees will also identify opportunities for ameliorating these issues through multistakeholder action.


GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


As of 2019, global internet freedom has been on the wane for nine consecutive years, according to Freedom on the Net, Freedom House's annual survey of digital rights in 65 countries around the world. This downward trend has blunted the internet's effectiveness as a tool for political, economic, and social empowerment, while contributing to declining trust in democracy and its surest guardian: the media. In this session, panelists will assess whether the downward trend held steady in 2020, drawing on the findings of the newly released 2020 edition of Freedom on the Net. The session aims to first provide attendees with a framework for understanding internet freedom and its importance, in the form of the Freedom on the Net survey. Next, panelists drawn from the survey's international network of researchers will use case studies to highlight unresolved and emerging challenges to global internet freedom in 2020. They will then share best practices for protecting and expanding digital rights on a multistakeholder basis. Finally, panelists will invite attendees to interrogate the design of the survey, contribute examples that support or falsify its 2020 findings, and brainstorm further strategies for reversing the decline in global internet freedom.

Expected Outcomes

Attendees will walk away from this session with a deeper understanding of internet freedom, its importance, and the issues threatening it globally. The session is also designed to enhance the robustness of the Freedom on the Net survey and its usefulness to the internet governance community by starting a dialogue about conceptualizing and measuring internet freedom.

After an approximately 30-minute panel discussion, we will open up the workshop to the audience, inviting attendees to interrogate the design of the survey, contribute examples that support or falsify its 2020 findings, and brainstorm further strategies for reversing the decline in global internet freedom.

Relevance to Internet Governance: A commitment to advancing internet freedom must guide the work of internet governance, because only a free and open internet can serve as a tool for political, economic, and social empowerment. In order to develop and advance a set of policies that protect and expand respect digital rights — the constitutive elements of internet freedom — around the world, the stakeholders involved in internet governance require an empirical way of measuring global internet freedom along with up-to-date information about the state of digital rights. This session and the Freedom on the Net survey aim to meet these needs.

Relevance to Theme: This session has special relevance to the Trust, Democracy, and Media subtheme of the Trust theme. The internet freedom issues highlighted in Freedom of the Net, such as digital divides, dis- and misinformation in the online public square, invasive state surveillance, and cyberattacks from nonstate actors, diminish users' trust in in democracy and the media. Identifying and tackling these issues is critical to restoring that trust, which is necessary for the realization of information technology's democratizing potential.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: We plan to solicit questions before and during this session over Twitter, using the hashtag #FreedomontheNet.