IGF 2023 WS #330 Opportunities and challenges of decentralized platforms


Human Rights & Freedoms
Rights to Access and Information

Organizer 1: Marlena Wisniak, 🔒
Organizer 2: Javier Pallero, CELE

Speaker 1: Eliska Pirkova, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Yoel Roth, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Tiwari Udbhav, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Augustijn van Zwoll, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Javier Pallero, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Online Moderator

Marlena Wisniak, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Marlena Wisniak, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

A. How do decentralized social media platforms impact human rights, especially those of marginalized and vulnerable groups?
B. How would existing emerging legislation and international human rights law apply to decentralized platforms?
C. How should developers and deployers of decentralized platforms engage with civil society and affected communities, in a way that is inclusive and meaningful?

What will participants gain from attending this session? This session will provide a safe space for activists and community members to build knowledge and connections around decentralized platforms and strategize how to best carry out their advocacy and organizing efforts in this new ecosystem.
Experts come from various sectors, including those working at platforms such as Wikimedia and the former Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter, members of the Dutch government who are developing their own decentralized platform, and academic and civil society thought leaders. Following their interventions, participants will collectively engage in an interactive workshop to shape alternative models which could better safeguard human rights..
Participants will discuss how to meaningfully engage in the design, development, and deployment of decentralized platforms and web3 technologies. It’s critical to learn from recent lessons in internet governance and ensure that any new technology is developed in collaboration with – and beneficial for – the communities most impacted by them.


Against the backdrop of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and a (renewed) interest in decentralized social media platforms, this session will explore the challenges and opportunities of the ‘fediverse’ and emerging technologies such as web3. ​​Decentralized technology systems in general have recently been celebrated and spotlighted as a model for co-creation, distributed governance and shared ownership, thereby claiming to achieve the collective promise of an open internet while bypassing harms stemming from Big Tech. Yet can web3 truly function as a decentralized system and advance public interest, in a world built around centralized power, money and influence? Can the Fediverse provide an opening for activists in a world with shrinking civic space? How would these alternative forms of social media be regulated in light of the EU Digital Services Act and Artificial Intelligence Act?
This session will assess and map the impacts of decentralized platforms on human rights, with an emphasis on civic freedoms. There is still very little understanding of the real opportunities – as opposed to the hype – behind web3 for strengthening civic space worldwide. Through a spillover effect of online harm to offline harm (and vice versa), activists, journalists, and political dissidents are disproportionately surveilled and censored by emerging technologies. A key element of rights-based and inclusive platforms is moderating to curating content on decentralized platforms. These risks are especially severe for civic actors in the Global Majority.

Yet while civic actors, especially those in the Global Majority, are disproportionately at-risk of harm, they’re often excluded from spaces and fora tasked to develop and regulate these technologies. This session will provide an opportunity for civil society, especially members or marginalized groups including those outside the US/Western Europe, to participate in redefining how platforms operate.

Expected Outcomes

We hope to learn from participants how they perceive and use emerging and alternative social media platforms, as well as any hopes and concerns they may have. Through facilitated breakout groups and conversations, participants will explore how platforms and communities can govern content in a decentralized way, in line with recent regulation and transparency obligations.

Participants’ insights will be a valuable conversation starter for future advocacy and tech development in this space. We hope this session will spearhead and/or strengthen civil society participation in the development of decentralized social media platforms. As these platforms are being rapidly designed and/or rolled out, there’s an urgent need – and opportunity – to meaningfully include civil society so that they center human rights and civic space. We will follow up with an outcome document and continue research and sharing on the issue during the year.

Hybrid Format: The session will be structured in three parts. First, the invited speakers will give a brief background about decentralized social media platforms, sharing key challenges and opportunities for human rights, especially in the Global South. Second, participants will be invited to share their thoughts and reflections through an open (but guided) conversation, possibly through breakout groups depending on the number of participants. Open discussion will be available both for attendees participating remotely, and those who are attending in-person. The organizer will provide facilitation for both in-person and online breakout groups, working with a co-moderator who will facilitate the online conversation. Third, the organizer will provide a high-level overview of what was discussed, as well as open questions and ideas for future work, based on the group discussion.