Internet governance has many faces: Report from the second and third day of the Internet Governance Forum 2021
The sessions and workshops on days two and three of the IGF covered many, very different aspects of Internet governance. A common red thread running through the program were the rights of users and the protection of vulnerable groups.
On Wednesday morning, the Dynamic Coalitions of the IGF demonstrated how digital collaboration between the actors in the different coalitions is realized across topics. Points of connection abound, with advocacy for human rights in the digital space a key unifying element of the work. The Dynamic Coalition for the Rights of Children in the Digital Environment emphasised General Comment No. 25 on the rights of children in the digital environment provides a good basis for prioritising the best interests of children, including in Internet governance issues: Continuing with the Dynamic Coalition on Core Internet Values workshop scheduled for Friday morning, where the Dynamic Coalition for the Rights of Children in the Digital Environment will advocate for the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation as a core value of the Internet.
In particular, the pandemic situation has made it abundantly clear that there are continuously major disparities in terms of access to the Internet and the teaching of media literacy worldwide, but also within individual countries, which need to be addressed. The growing number of users and the increase in time spent online should not obscure the fact that the digital divide persists. At the same time, more Internet use can also lead to an increased risk of children being confronted with content inappropriate for them, contacts not appropriate for their age, and the risk of sexual abuse. A whole series of national and regional Internet governance forums in 2021 addressed the question of which threats are particularly acute and how they can be countered. This was the subject of Thursday evening's NRI session, "Securing the trusted Internet now for the generations to come" For IGF Benin, Kossi Amessinou from the Ministry of Economy and Finance reported that legislation alone is not enough to protect children. Regulatory instruments such as the Child Protection Code must be implemented in practice, he said, and this includes teaching media literacy in families. For the Asia-Pacific region, Jennifer Chung also pointed to a lack of media literacy programs. Many areas in this region are still underserved, the cost of access to the Internet is high, and educational opportunities are rare.
From Italy, Giacomo Mazzone reported access to education being severely hampered by the pandemic. Children and young people lacked access to devices, and parents lacked the skills to help their children using them. One teenager had died by imitating a challenge on TikTok; this had initially led to a three-month ban of the platform. In the meantime, the provider has introduced measures to prevent use by minors, but more media literacy is also needed for greater safety.
From Mauritius, Mahendranath Busgopaul reported on risks posed to children and young people by advertising for dangerous products and services. The country has good legal regulation in the area of data protection, IT security and defense against computer misuse, responsibilities are clearly defined and there are functioning reporting mechanisms available in the event of violations. Nevertheless, increased activity, particularly in the area of online games, has led to more dangers for children - such as unauthorized purchases or online betting.
Mary Uduma highlighted the risk of children being recruited for terrorist activities in the West Africa region. She said that providers, like the education system, have a responsibility to ensure that children are not excluded from the opportunities of digitalisation on the one hand, but are also not abused for the interests of others. From Lebanon, Zeina Bou Harb reported a significant increase in the number of child sexual abuse cases since 2019. In cooperation with platform providers, children should be increasingly introduced to offers that are safe for them; the Champ of the Internet competition is a successful example.
The participants in the session consented on the need for good professional exchange about risks and ways to combat them. The IGF's national and regional initiatives in particular can make a significant contribution here, as they know the conditions on the ground and can assess the transferability of solution approaches. An overview of potential dangers as well as examples of legal regulation and offers for teaching media competence and creating safe spaces for children and young people was proposed, which shall be updated regularly with the participation of the NRIs.
On Thursday morning, the Main Session on economic and social inclusion and human rights and the Main Session Regulation and the open, interoperable, and interconnected Internet - challenges and approaches had already dealt with the protection of children and young people. Best practice examples of regulatory approaches to personal data handling, content moderation and the use of artificial intelligence were discussed. Both sessions emphasised children's rights to protection, provision, and participation as a necessary condition of the Internet's future. The primacy of the best interests of the child under UN CRC Art 3 and under the European Human Rights Charter Art 24 (2) must also be taken into account in Internet governance decisions.
An Open Forum of the OECD on Thursday afternoon dealt with access requirements and the protection of children on the Internet. Brian O'Neill from the project CORE - Children Online Research and Evidence reported that risks of contact and conduct are particularly noticeable in phases of transition, for example when young people use their first own device or expand their radius of action on the internet and engage with social networks or online games. The recommendations published by the OECD on children in the digital environment confirm the central role that the Internet plays in the upbringing of children and young people, while at the same time underlining the resulting potential danger for the younger generation. The OECD considers better protection for children's data and age-appropriate design of the offerings used by children in accordance with the principle of safety-by-design, legally regulated framework conditions and the cooperation of all stakeholders to be suitable instruments.
The multi-stakeholder approach of the Internet Governance Forum proves to be the right one, especially in view of the challenges for a safe and trustworthy Internet that is equally accessible to all.