IGF 2023 WS #476 Digital democracy and future realities

Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (23:45 UTC) - Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (01:15 UTC)
WS 5 – Room B-2

Organizer 1: Toledo Amalia, 🔒Wikimedia Foundation
Organizer 2: Irene Mwendwa, Pollicy

Speaker 1: Dimitar Dimitrov, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 2: Mallory Knodel, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Guilherme Canela Godoi, Intergovernmental Organization, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 4: Monrawee (Lynn) Ampolpittayanant , Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 5: Thompson Bill, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Irene Mwendwa, Civil Society, African Group

Online Moderator

Toledo Amalia, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Jan Gerlach Jan Gerlach, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Break-out Group Discussions - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. What public goods does the Internet currently provide - which groups benefit and which groups are excluded? 2. How can we build internet technologies that are expressly architected, designed, and deployed to meet the specific requirements of public service organizations and activities more fully than the current set of standards that make the internet work? 3. How do we ensure that the various stakeholders are heard and have the appropriate input so that we can develop online governance structures that serve everyone?

What will participants gain from attending this session? Few internet governance discussions ask what positive visions we collectively hold for our online spaces, the services we want Internet infrastructure to provide, and how we might realize them. By opening such a conversation, we hope participants will learn from each other how they use the Internet for public benefit, and how today’s internet might be re-imagined and adjusted in ways that better support the delivery of public benefits and reduce its potential for harm. This discussion will illuminate how diverse stakeholders understand, view and defend public service principles in a digital world that is increasingly shaped by commercial interests.


In 2023, the excitement about the ‘democratizing’ force of the Internet has largely given way to worries about the commercial interests' dominance and bad faith actors’ ability to spread harmful content. Instead of the online publicly-owned and publicly-governed spaces that were envisioned to allow individuals to engage and connect with each other, our communication spaces instead mainly run by private, for-profit platforms. While governments and lawmakers around the world are introducing regulations to address the proliferation of harmful online content via some of the largest internet platforms, there is a lack of proactive actions taken to promote a positive vision of the internet. This session will focus on the open, public interest ideals and functions of the internet. Speakers will explore what we can do to promote shared, free, and communally governed spaces that allow participation, deliberation, and collaboration to flourish. Representing important stakeholders from across the information ecosystem, they will discuss what it means to place the public interest at the heart of internet regulation and innovation. What principles ought to be protected, and how? What technologies are required to realize these principles? These questions will be explored by a representative of a public broadcaster, activists who deploy traditional and emerging digital media to affect change, cultural heritage organizations that enable the interplay between analog and digital public resources, and private sector technologists who have shaped the infrastructure of our online spaces. By engaging these actors, this session aims to clarify how different actors can work together to create an internet that serves the public interest and the organizations advancing it. A conversation about the fundamental principles that the Internet should preserve is pertinent at a time when the harms in digital space are being dissected into discrete problems to solve - whether data protection, content moderation, or disinformation.

Expected Outcomes

The expected outcomes of the session are three-fold. First, participants should walk away with a better understanding of what might be required from civil society, government, and private sector actors in order to use the Internet for public benefit rather than to serve commercial interests. Second, we hope to underscore the value of creating space to collectively imagine positive visions for the Internet rather than discussions that focus only on regulating and stopping the Internet’s more nefarious features. Finally, we anticipate that bringing together such a diverse range of stakeholders will allow those in the room to form a shared bond over the importance of this discussion and continue to leverage this network of other organizations concerned about the public good.

Hybrid Format: We plan to invite a few participants to share their perspectives about what public service internet entails as a way to frame the discussion. Online and offline participants will be able to listen and learn equally. Participants will then be split into smaller discussion groups to facilitate more engaging conversations. An online moderator will be dedicated to working with online participants so that they can engage at the highest level possible. Their contributions will be shared-back to the in-person group to add to the final round of reflections. Virtual and in-person moderators will work together to ensure that virtual participants' questions or comments are heard in the room.