IGF 2023 WS #457 Balancing act: advocacy with big tech in restrictive regimes

Monday, 9th October, 2023 (08:00 UTC) - Monday, 9th October, 2023 (09:30 UTC)
WS 4 – Room B-1

Human Rights & Freedoms
Internet Shutdowns
Rights to Access and Information
Technology in International Human Rights Law

Organizer 1: Katia Mierzejewska, ARTICLE 19
Organizer 2: Suay Ergin-Boulougouris, ARTICLE 19
Organizer 3: Clarke Sarah, Article 19 Europe
Organizer 4: Kivilcim Ceren Buken, ARTICLE 19

Speaker 1: Suay Ergin-Boulougouris, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Elonnai Hickok, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Trinh Huu Long, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Cagatay Pekyorur, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Sarah Clarke, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Katia Mierzejewska, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Katia Mierzejewska, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Break-out Group Discussions - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

A. How can civil society balance the advocacy for digital rights with the potential risks of increased platform restrictions, and what strategies can be utilised to minimize harm to the communities they serve in authoritarian regimes?

B. What strategies and best practices can big tech companies adopt to resist undue government pressure, and how can they engage with civil society to ensure user interests are prioritised while maintaining service availability?

C. In a globalised world, how can repressive governments who have imposed restrictive internet legislation be effectively held to account to uphold their human rights commitments online?


What will participants gain from attending this session? In this session, participants will gain vital insights into the unique challenges and complex dynamics between civil society, big tech companies, and authoritarian regimes. By focusing on real-world examples from Turkey and Vietnam, attendees will comprehend the delicate balance between resisting undue government pressure, ensuring platform accessibility, and advocating for digital rights.

The session goes beyond awareness raising - a variety of strategies for navigating in authoritarian regimes will be explored and identified by participants during the brainstorming session. With actionable approaches generated in this workshop, civil society, big tech, and policymakers will be empowered to promote and protect the internet we desire - an open, inclusive, and democratic platform, regardless of the political landscape. What is more, participants will leave the session with a strengthened network of diverse professionals from various locations worldwide, all sharing a dedication to promoting human rights and freedoms in the digital realm.


The digital rights landscape is transforming into a battlefield due to the escalation of government-imposed restrictions. Authoritarian regimes exert immense control over online content, pushing big tech companies into a dilemma: either comply with restrictive orders or face potential throttling and severe sanctions. This becomes particularly problematic in contexts where online platforms serve as the only medium for dissent. Civil society's push for big tech companies to resist undue government pressure can lead to unintended consequences such as throttling or even total inaccessibility of these platforms, jeopardising the users and communities that civil society seeks to safeguard.

The gravity and complexity of this issue is underlined by recent cases. For instance, the pre-election context in Turkey saw big tech platforms such as Twitter, Meta, and YouTube caught in a predicament as the government mandated content blocking. Faced with the threat of bandwidth throttling on election eve, these platforms opted for content censorship. Similarly, Facebook succumbed to content blocking in Vietnam after being throttled.

This interactive workshop focuses on fostering actionable solutions and strategies to advocate for digital rights amidst such challenges. Drawing from recent incidents in Turkey and Vietnam, we underscore the complexities and consequences of digital rights advocacy in hostile environments. We aim to tackle the nuanced task of striking a balance between resisting undue government pressure and maintaining platform accessibility for users.

The workshop's goal extends beyond awareness-raising, we aim to identify best practices, formulate potential solutions, and promote actionable outcomes through breakout sessions. By addressing these pressing digital rights challenges, we aim to empower civil society and big tech in advocating for an open and inclusive internet, ensuring that the digital rights of all users are protected, even in the toughest political climates.

Expected Outcomes

The session aims to 1) Deepen participants’ understanding of the challenges faced by civil society when advocating for digital rights in authoritarian regimes, and the dilemma big tech companies find themselves in: either comply with undue government orders or face potential throttling and severe sanctions, such as advertising bans. 2) Identify best practices to promote digital rights and explore actionable strategies for civil society to engage with tech companies, potentially influencing future policy and practise for big tech operating under authoritarian regimes. 3) Obtain new insights into potential roles of democratic governments in promoting digital rights globally.

Possible outputs: 1) Follow-up roundtables to assess the implementation of the proposed strategies and their impact, creating a feedback loop for continuous learning and improvement. 2) A comprehensive report summarising the discussions, insights, and proposed strategies to navigate digital rights challenges in authoritarian regimes, to be disseminated online as appropriate.


Hybrid Format: Our plan for this hybrid session is facilitating an engaging and interactive experience for both onsite and online participants by utilising a reliable video conferencing platform like Zoom. The session will be structured to optimise engagement for all participants, regardless of their mode of attendance. Participants joining remotely can actively participate by posing questions or comments via the chat feature, monitored consistently throughout the session. For the breakout sessions, remote participants will be allocated to virtual breakout rooms - an approach we have successfully implemented previously.

A dedicated team member will be available both onsite and online to swiftly address technical issues and maintain uninterrupted communication. We also commit to creating an inclusive environment, with clear instructions and guidelines ensuring that remote participants can actively contribute to discussions. We will also consider using live polls on Zoom, giving all participants a chance to contribute to the discussion in real-time.