IGF 2023 WS #277 Is there good and bad Internet Fragmentation for democracy?

Organizer 1: Kateryna Bovsunovska, Internet Society Youth Standing Group
Organizer 2: Salvatore Orazio Agatino Giannitto, 🔒
Organizer 3: Laura Pereira, 🔒Vero | IP.rec

Speaker 1: Olga Kyryliuk, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 2: Akinori MAEMURA, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Yug Desai, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Nicolas Fiumarelli, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Salvatore Orazio Agatino Giannitto, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Kateryna Bovsunovska, Technical Community, Eastern European Group


Laura Pereira, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Round Table - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

A. What makes Internet Fragmentation acceptable?
B. What should be the tools for detecting non-acceptable Internet Fragmentation and addressing it?
C. Are there policy and advocacy frameworks and strategies to ensure that possible acceptable forms of Internet Fragmentation are not automatically linked with unacceptable forms?

What will participants gain from attending this session? This session will offer intellectual resources and reflective space for IGF participants and the Internet Governance community. By evaluating and systematising this topic within a democratic framework, it seeks to address a subject that has consistently been on the agenda but remains disputed and questioned. Considering Internet fragmentation from a democratic perspective may assist the Internet community in tackling this increasingly unavoidable issue, as democratic states view the Internet as a potential threat to democracy.
Participants will join a discussion of the effects of Internet Fragmentation on today's democratic institutions. Retracing the history of the Internet and diverse examples of states that were the first to embark on the path of fragmentation, it will explore the links between non-democratic and democratic forms of government and digital sovereignty. The forms of acceptable and unacceptable Fragmentation in the world will be identified in light of the evolving nature of Internet Fragmentation.


Internet fragmentation is still in its early stages of political problematisation, despite being regularly discussed over the past 20 years among Internet enthusiasts. Meanwhile, states started playing a crucial role in shaping the Internet based on their strategic interests. Internet Fragmentation now emerges as a risk of what has been identified as the "return of the State" to Internet Governance, not only limited to authoritarian States. The perspective of defending national sovereignty and increasing control over Internet-related issues within their borders has also been a relevant discourse in states with consolidated democratic systems.
This shift poses a question, to what extent such legislative actions and geographical blocks justified under the guise of defending democracy may actually lead to fragmentation with consequent harms or benefits to democratic principles?
Are there any acceptable forms of Internet fragmentation when considered within democratic institutions? For example, can GDPR be seen as acceptable from an Internet fragmentation perspective, given that it increases data protection standards?
Moreover, Internet fragmentation has evolved beyond technical interoperability and governance coordination. According to the PNIF outputs in 2022, recent initiatives by states and private actors have introduced new layers to the problem, including end-user experience fragmentation caused by state-imposed blocks and private walled gardens. These developments reshape the concept of Internet fragmentation and further complicate the issue.
In summary, the workshop aims to explore contemporary Internet fragmentation, emphasising its current forms: 1) a discourse perpetuated by authoritarian and democratic countries highlighting risks to digital sovereignty and democracy posed by the Internet, and 2) a phenomenon encompassing various layers, such as end-user experience. The impact of Internet fragmentation on democratic institutions will be examined, addressing the question of acceptable and unacceptable forms of fragmentation.

Expected Outcomes

The session outcomes will clarify the difference between acceptable and unacceptable Internet Fragmentation in democratic and non-democratic countries. It will complement the debate on the role of democracies in augmenting Internet Fragmentation. An active discussion on this topic will benefit the regulators in making decisions affecting Internet interoperability in a more balanced way and other stakeholders in framing the advocacy activities around the matter.

Hybrid Format: To make sure online and onsite speakers and attendees interact with each other, two moderators will cooperate so that participants have an equal opportunity to join the discussion with online and offline speakers and ask them questions. Moderators will particularly ensure that there is enough time allocated and a joint queue of questions for online and onsite participants so that each group has the same priority to ask questions to the speakers, whether online or onsite. The main tools used will be Zoom (i.e. chat option) and Google Docs.