IGF 2021 Launch / Award Event #19 Power and Authority in Internet Governance: Return of the State?

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (12:45 UTC) - Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (13:45 UTC)
Conference Room 8

Brock University
Anit Gurumurthy, IT for Change, NGO, Asia and the Pacific Blayne Haggart, Brock University, Academic, WEOG Manal Ismail, Chief Expert, Internet Policies, National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt, Government, Africa Jan Aart Scholte, Leiden University, WEOG


Olga Cavalli, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Argentina, Government, GRULAC Blayne Haggart, Brock University, Academic, WEOG Ting Luo, Manchester Metropolitan University, Academic, WEOG Niels ten Oever, University of Amsterdam, Civil Society, WEOG

Onsite Moderator
Manal Ismail
Online Moderator

Blayne Haggart


Jan Aart Scholte


Book launch, Panel discussion among authors, with discussant and public Q&A

Duration (minutes)



This new book, Power and Authority in Internet Governance: Return of the State?, investigates the hotly contested role of the state in today's digital society. Picking up on debates over ‘digital sovereignty’, so prominent in recent IGFs, the book asks: Is the state "back" in internet regulation? If so, what forms are state involvement taking, and with what consequences for the future? The volume brings together stakeholders from different regions and sectors to consider these questions. In particular, the book includes case studies from both democratic (Latin America, the EU, and Brazil) and authoritarian (Russia, China) countries. As this IGF event will show, we need to push the debate over state involvement in internet governance beyond a simplistic dichotomy between liberalism and authoritarianism. Panelists bring perspectives from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, as well as from academia, civil society and government.

Further information about Power, Authority and Internet Governance is available at: https://www.routledge.com/Power-and-Authority-in-Internet-Governance-Return-of-the-State/Haggart-Tusikov-Scholte/p/book/9780367442033

1. This will be an hybrid session (online and in-person) that will be designed to encourage discussion and debate among the panelists and online and in-site participants. After brief introductory statements from the book authors, the discussant will engage the authors in a general discussion before opening the event up to questions from on-site and online participants. The on-site and online moderators (Ismail and Haggart, respectively) will manage participants’ involvement.

2. All of the speakers and organizers are comfortable working in both online and hybrid situations. The online and in-person moderators will be in contact via supplemental formats (i.e., texting) to ensure the event goes smoothly.

3. We will be publicizing and requesting questions/comments over Twitter using a hashtag.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

1. The binary of authoritarian versus liberal-democratic states is too simplistic an account of the role of the state in Internet governance.

2. All states, including the Chinese state, have a fragmented governance of digital affairs. 3. Both multilateralism and multistakeholderism can be understood to fall within a ‘metagovernance’ of digital capitalism.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

A more active role of developing country governments in both multilateral and multistakeholder governance of the Internet.

More nuanced approaches to our thinking of the state's role in internet governance, including thinking beyond the multilateralism-versus-multistakeholderism framing in order to discover alternative more democratic future possibilities in Internet governance.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

This session featured presentations on the book Power and Authority in Internet Governance: Return of the State? Co-editor Dr. Blayne Haggart highlighted the book's origins in French President Emmanuel Macron's 2018 speech to the IGF on the need for greater state involvement in internet governance, as well as the book's focus on key issues, such as the similarities and differences between democratic and authoritarian states with respect to internet governance, from non-US and, for the most part, non-EU perspectives.

Chapter co-author Dr. Olga Cavalli discussed how the IANA transition has affected the nature of state involvement in global internet governance, raising also the question of the state's role as a conduit for addressing normative issues. Author Dr. Niels ten Oever argued for thinking about internet governance as a form of "metagovernance," in which private governance (focused on maximizing interoperation above all else) and state governance (which pursues other [socially legitimate] objectives) are seen not as contradictory, but as part of a whole. Co-author Dr. Ting Luo presented on Chinese state governance of the internet. Using the concept of "fragmented authoritarianism," she highlighted how the Chinese state (specifically, the Chinese Communist Party) focuses its efforts to control the internet in China on areas deemed essential to the Party's survival. As a result, in areas deemed non-essential to this task (such as medical information -- excluding COVID, that is), governance involves a mix of state agencies and non-state actors, such as platforms.

Discussant Dr. Anita Gurumurthy praised the book's investigation of issues of state power and authority. She raised questions regarding how best people could realize the possibility of democratic control over the internet toward humane outcomes. In particular, she engaged with Dr. ten Oever on whether the state was necessary to enable more democratic/humane governance (she argued it was necessary). Along those lines, she also argued that multistakeholder governance (which holds significant discursive power) is playing a role in de-democratizing internet governance, legitimizing privatized technocratic control in this area. Here, the argument that corporate power is something the state needs to check. Dr. ten Oever disagreed somewhat, arguing that there was not one sole actor that could claim to safeguard the public interest. The current multistakeholder process should not just be a balancing act between state and private actors, but if it wants to protect the public interest, new forms of citizen engagement and governance were called for, including a carefully crafted return of the state and reform of the multistakeholder model to support associations and collectives.

Other points that were raised include the widening gap between developed and developing countries when it comes to their involvement in global internet governance. On China, it was noted that both democratic and authoritarian countries are struggling to deal with how to govern user-generated content, e.g., with respect to physically harmful medical advice. China is not the only country characterized by "nine dragons run the water” – a saying that describes how, in the presence of divided authority, negative outcomes often ensue.