IGF 2022 WS #494 Cutting Ties: Citizens caught between conflict and tech

Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (10:50 UTC) - Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (11:50 UTC)

Organizer 1: Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Speaker 1: Nighat Dad, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Tanzeel Khan, Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Mona Shtaya


Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. Limiting digital services is a major disruptor in the lives and well being of ordinary citizens. What actions by a state or government can justify imposing such restrictions on all the residents of a country? 2. What rules and framework should tech companies follow when making this decision? What overarching principles and guidelines should dictate which restrictions should be imposed and when? 3. To what extent should companies comply with laws that govern data protection and freedom of speech/right to information that a company believes infringes on human rights and the rights of the company? When would cutting off ties be more beneficial instead? 4. Digital Apartheid is one concept in which social media companies are using content moderation to side with some humanitarian causes while ignoring the rest; how are social media companies deciding which cause is more important? Why aren’t all invasions/wars being treated the same?


10. Reduced Inequalities
Targets: The questions raised in this session are linked to SDG#4 because they start the conversation on how limiting access to digital and online services and products affect the education, abilities, and knowledge of youth and different genders, and how this negative consequence can be controlled. SDG#8 is relevant because of cutting of certain opportunities linked to the internet, either by tech companies or by the state, the livelihood and employment opportunities of young people especially are affected. This includes cross border financial payments, in particular for freelancers, when banking and financial apps reduce their services. This is also linked to SDG#10, because when opportunities for people within a certain country's boundaries are pulled back, they are essentially excluded from the social and economic benefits that the rest of the world enjoys. Furthermore, one of the biggest consequences of such actions by tech companies and states is the public's loss of free and impartial information and knowledge. Doing so makes it easier for any party with malicious intent to feed them biased or incomplete information, and goes against a people's democratic right to information.

We have seen examples in recent times when certain tech companies have blocked and restricted their operations and content in areas where they did not agree with the political actions of the state. On the other hand, there are also examples of states that have blocked access to certain companies and services because of their non-compliance with recently passed laws - laws that were deemed as infringing on freedom of speech by the other party. However, citizens not involved in making the political decision, and some who do not even support the move, may be deprived of access to financial systems, social media, entertainment, and education and networking systems which connected them to the rest of the world, because of other major players' decisions. The questions that arise then are whether tech companies are entitled to restrict access to digital services and content for ordinary people and what rules and parameters should govern that decision. Can the move to isolate citizens of a particular region, whether they themselves are perpetrators of war or conflict be justified? There are other examples of a state infringing on other people’s rights the world over, but this cutting off of ties and taking selective stances on issues while remaining silent on the rest is not seen in every situation. In what situations is limiting digital services and moderating content to silence certain voices an acceptable form of pressurizing a government? When does the victim evoke enough sympathy for tech companies to allow this major decision to incur financial loss?

Expected Outcomes

1. A discussion on whether these actions by tech companies prove to be beneficial in any way, or whether they cause more harm than good. 2. Understanding the content moderation framework at Big tech companies and who decides on what causes are better suited to be highlighted on these platforms 3. An acknowledgement that while there is no clear answer here, efforts should be made to establish some sort of framework or guidelines so that arbitrary policy decisions by companies do not affect the open and interoperable nature of the internet for citizens.

Hybrid Format: As mentioned before, the questions raised in this workshop do not necessarily have a clear answer and instead are extremely debatable. It would be preferred therefore to have real time feedback by the attendees and record new questions as the conversations develop, through an interactive app such as Mentimeter. This would also allow us to increase participation by attendees to an almost equal degree as the speakers, and allow people living through the situations being discussed to relay their real life experience.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool.