Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

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Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Review: Implications of Internet 2025 Scenarios

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Brief description:

Earlier in the day at IGF-USA, participants divided into three groups to discuss potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. At this session, moderators briefed the plenary crowd on the discussions and they and other IGF-USA participants in the audience weighed in with their observations.

Details of the session:

Building upon an experiment that had succeeded at the previous year’s meeting, the Internet Governance Forum-USA presented a set of hypothetical situations, ranging between idyllic or dystopic depending on the preferences of those in attendance. Splitting off into three groups, panelists and members of the audience discussed the pros and cons of the end results of an imagined timeline, then moved on to figure out how best either to ensure or prevent said timeline.

As a part of the concluding ceremony of the IGF-USA, the lead moderators of every respective group presented their scenario to those caught unaware by a possible destiny and pointed out what the Internet community, along with governmental and business leaders, can do to in response to the potential future.

The first, Regionalization of the Internet, revolved around a prospective world in which individuals are either in or out on the Web, blocked off from those deemed to be outside of their own government’s sphere of influence. (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here:

Andrew Mack, of AMGlobal Consulting and the session’s lead moderator, described it as, “interesting, but a bit depressing. We took the Angel of Death view on this.”

The idea of the Internet as an open highway, in this world, is replaced by one replete with tolls, as cross-regional access is limited, or in the worst cases, cut off entirely. Because of national security concerns, economic weakness, pressure from climate change and the massive new adoption rates of the “next billion” Internet users found in emerging markets, the Internet becomes a series of castles.

Some in the session actually thought the scenario fit the present more than an illusory future, and the more dire of descriptions could become the status quo within five years. To prevent it, governments were urged to be flexible and practice their own advice, industries were urged to increase their focus on the next billion users, who as of yet have no champion to advance their causes, and IGF was urged to resist the advance of ITU, the United Nation’s mass communications arm.

The second session, lead by Pablo Molina of the Georgetown Law Center, presented a more positive picture. “Youth Rising and Reigning” (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: a world with the youth-led revolutions in the Middle East spreading to Europe and other disaffected masses taking up the call to utilize new Internet-based technologies to assert their own independence in light of continued economic and civil strife. And though many agreed that there’s a strong plausibility of “Youth Rising …” a key distinction that strikes at its heart was made.

“The defining factor is digital literacy and mastery, not age,” Molina told the audience, bringing to earth the notion that everyone younger than 30 is an Internet messiah, and bringing to light the fact that with the right competencies and skill, even the most elderly can have an influence on the Web. And despite the positive outlook of the scenario, an important distinction was made: Bad actors will always find ways to capitalize on new advances, and inadvertently, some innocents will be inconvenienced or, at worst, suffer as a result of those ill intentions.

JULY 18, 2011 - During an afternoon session of the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011, Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, shares what was discussed during the morning "Government Prevails" scenario.

To encourage, if not the revolutionary subtext of the hypothetical situation, the political and societal awareness of the youth, all means to promote participation in political discourse were advocated, be they through industry continuing its innovative advances, governments empowering instead of reigning in their citizens, or IGF supporting the participation of more and more stakeholders to ensure all voices are accounted for. And, of course, education, coming in the form of digital literacy, is a must for the youth to have the tools to, at most, incite a just revolution, and at the least, fight for their own causes in an effective way once the Internet further integrates itself within society.

The talkback that was perhaps the most pessimistic and grimly reminiscent of the most bleak of science fiction was “Government Prevails,” led by Steven DelBianco of NetChoice. (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: depicts not victorious and noble governments deservedly beloved by its populace, but ones that, through a series of calamities, find themselves with the responsibility and power over maintaining surveillance over their entire citizenry.

Natural disasters of unimaginable magnitude and hacking sprees running rampant across the globe, in this scenario, coupled with rapid advancements in mobile and surveillance technologies, give the world’s governments both the mandates (since its presumed that they win the public trust after being the only entities capable of responding to such horrendous occurrences) and means to fulfill a vision reminiscent, albeit not quite as menacing, as that of George Orwell’s “1984.”

“I woke up this morning feeling fine, and now I’m afraid,” one member of the session said after hearing about the timeline.

Each of the elements of the prevailing government could be, as separate entities, taken as positives. Many responded warmly to the possibility of a more advanced version of London’s CCTV, scanning entire cities in the hopes of preventing crime, or smartphones that were not only mandated to keep tabs on your location at all times, but which could be used to turn in violators of strict anti-pollution legislation. But at the end of the day, it’s still a world in which the government is given the sole proprietorship of its people, with a seemingly omniscient awareness of their every little move.

To keep it from happening, the workshop decided, industries should obey the laws to avoid losing public trust, and they work together with the government to avoid the current philosophy of “government vs. private business interests.” Governments, obviously, shouldn’t grab the chance at such power and instead opt for a more open and decentralized Internet.

As for IGF? It should stick to its current duties and engage with all stakeholders, though such a future, while seemingly horrendous to Western minds, DelBianco mused, could be equally as appealing to those in countries such as Iran and China. This, in the end, illustrated one of the most evocative elements of the hypothetical exercise. Just as one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure, one man’s dystopia can be another man’s utopia.

– Morgan Little


Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Youth Roundtable: Digital Natives? Mythbusting Assumptions

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Brief description:

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project more than 93 percent of teens (ages 12-17) and young adults (18-29) are currently online. Many Internet governance debates are held in the name of youth and many Internet policy decisions are made to guard or guide the young. But what do we really know about how young people use the Internet and what impacts it may have on them? What are the common claims about the influence of the Internet on children and young adults that fuel the Internet governance debate? How do young people really use new communications technologies and what issues do they see as most important? This roundtable explored some of the common myths about young people and the Internet, bringing together a group of college-aged participants from several U.S. universities to engage in a peer-moderated discussion.

Details of the session:

What do you know about how young people use the technology tools available online? Moderators Colin Donohue, a journalism instructor and student media adviser from Elon University, and Ali Hamed, from Cornell University led a guided discussion with a roundtable of panelists and forum attendees about this point and more at IGF-USA at Georgetown University July 18.

The young people who participated in the roundtable were:

  • Ronda Ataalla, 19, rising junior at Elon University
  • Kellye Coleman, 21, rising senior at Elon University
  • William O’Connor, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • Chelsea Rowe, rising sophomore at Cornell University
  • Jeff Stern, 19, rising sophomore at Elon University
  • Kristen Steves, Cornell University student, blogger for End Slavery Now
  • Nick Troiano, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • William Vogt, rising senior at Georgetown University

Their discussion and the title of the workshop stem from a number characteristics often assumed by the public about youth online that have been contradicted by research, including:

– All young people are highly active users of the Internet.
– Young people don’t care about their privacy.
– The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place.
– All teens are naturally tech-savvy and adept at creating online content – “digital natives.”
– The virtual world of online communications is isolating young people.
– Social media leads kids to be deceptive.
– Social media is addictive to everyone who uses it regularly.
– The Internet is the great equalizer.

The Youth Roundtable discussed privacy, which generated conversations about the youth’s behavior on the Internet, how the youth online define friendships and to what extent privacy issues should be incorporated into education.

The panelists agreed that the youth value privacy, but have different views concerning what content is private or deserving of privacy.

“It’s not about knowing (about privacy),” O’Connor said. “It’s about younger generations’ values about what’s private and what’s public is different.”

JULY 18, 2011 - William O'Connor from Georgetown University (right) discusses the way online choices are affected by personal values during the Digital Natives Panel at the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011.

He discussed how he criticized his younger sibling’s activity online but acknowledged his parents’ similar sentiments about his own use of the Internet.

Vogt, Ataalla and O’Connor agreed that they are aware of, and content with, public access to content that is willingly posted.

“I think privacy is the wrong word for things that are public on Facebook,” O’Connor said.

The students argued against the myth that the youth are not aware of one’s own privacy. Those on the panel explained the benefits of sharing information, and Ataalla said her professors at Elon University encourage students to keep Twitter accounts public in order to attract employers.

Private social media accounts indicate you have something to hide, she said.

When youth expect privacy

Hamed asked the panel if there is a different level of thinking regarding something willingly posted on a social network site compared to information protected by a password.

Although the panelists agreed that they value technical privacy, they also agreed that “digital natives” are more likely to trust that corporations will protect their information.

“I guess maybe I’m a little too trusting,” Steves said. “I’m skeptical, but Google, for instance, I would look at the ratings and assume that maybe because everyone uses it I’ll be safe, but that may not necessarily be the case.”

Troiano said he believed it was in the company’s interest to protect the consumers’ information, which makes him assume a successful company is trustworthy.

On the other hand, Stern explained that when FireFox stores a user’s password, anyone that uses that computer has access to that information.

“It’s just something to think about,” he said.

The conversation suggested it is not that the youth do not value privacy, but rather that they distinguish between value-based privacy and technical privacy.

“We don’t understand this idea of privacy, the whole idea of data protection never crosses many of our minds,” Coleman said.

Nevertheless, Troiano said that he was not concerned with information released to advertisement companies because that transaction improves the lives of the users.

JULY 18, 2001 -- Will Vogt participates in "Digital Natives: Myth-busting about Youth in the Online World"

“I don’t think that’s an invasion of our privacy. I think that’s the efficiency of the Web,” Troiano said.

Cautionary relationships on the Web

While those on the panel admitted to trusting seemingly popular companies on the Internet, they expressed more skepticism concerning Facebook friend requests, Twitter followers and other more personal interactions online.

When receiving a request from a Twitter follower, Ataalla referenced Facebook to confirm the individual’s existence and questioned mutual friends to verify the person’s intentions.

Mutual friends and photographs help determine whether it is safe to accept someone’s request, Troiano said.

“We don’t get credit for thinking these things through,” Rowe said.

Although the panelists’ caution regarding relationships online counters the myth that youth are susceptible to dangers on the Internet, O’Connor identified meeting new people as one of the benefits of the Web. Coleman uses social media as a way to contact those interested in similar topics. She uses Twitter to find experts in journalism, her field of study.

“I have learned so much from the people I follow on Twitter, and reading articles and blogs and even having conversations with them,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to kind of learn from, not only experts, but also peers and have discussions with them about different things through those social networks.”

Hamed asked the panelists if social networks invite new connections or solidify the network users already belong to.

“It’s both isolating and opening,” Vogt said.

O’Connor first used social networks to maintain relationships with classmates he met at boarding school, he said. But he also said those same networks can create homogenous lifestyles and choices.

“There can be a discussion abut some of the things that are lost when surrounding yourself with people only like you,” he said.

How to communicate proper online behavior

Hamed asked the panelists if they believe the youth should be educated about proper online behavior.

Although some advocated formal education, others thought the Internet is simply life expressed in a new platform. In other words, the same values you learn that guide you in your everyday life are applicable, in some ways, to how you interact online.

“You can apply the same values you have in life (to the Internet),” O’Connor said.

For example, children are taught not to talk to strangers. Well, that concept is applicable to the Web, too. New social networks continue to enable the Internet to mirror real life.

“Our parents had the luxury of having a life where they could separate friend life and church life and family life, but information we’re putting out all has one shared life,” Troiano said.

Facebook categorized parents and friends in the same network, so all had access to the same content and information. Security controls were buried in the network, causing youth online to hesitate becoming “friends” with their parents.

But now, circles on Google+ divide social groups online similarly to how social groups are divided in real life. These fragmentations also help youth control who sees what content, giving users greater control over privacy.

Who should control Internet security?

Hamed posed another question about who should inherit responsibility of controlling privacy online.

Troiano said he doubted whether the government would have the right answers concerning privacy, but believed that the market would regulate itself.

“There are bad things that happen, but the Internet, in its free form, can counteract those things,” Troiano said.

Filters communicate what is appropriate to access, Stern said, but Rowe argued there should be formal education to teach young people how to search and find credible resources on the Internet.

Nevertheless, education does not need to come from a formal setting. The youth online have the ability to standardize online behavior, Coleman said.

“We have an opportunity, as younger people, to be a part of educating, not only younger people, but our peers about these things,” she said.

– Melissa Kansky

Internet Governance Forum-USA 2011 Potential-future scenario discussion: Youth Rising and Reigning

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Brief description:

IGF participants broke into three different rooms to discuss three different, possible potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. In this session, the brief description given to the discussants was: Youth Rising and Reigning describes a future in which tech-attuned young people come to dominate over an aging world in which production and delivery are dominated by young users.

Details of the session:

Among the facilitators of the discussion of the Youth Rising and Reigning potential-future scenario at the Internet Governance Forum-USA 2011 at Georgetown University Law Center were Pablo Molina of the Georgetown Law Center, Chris Hemmerlein of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Kelly O’Keefe of Access Partnerships.

You can read the one-page PDF used to launch this discussion here:

The potential future drivers of change between now and 2025 that people were asked to consider before discussing this scenario included:

  • Global economic woes and the Arab Spring move young people to increasingly become power producers and consumers of Internet content. The power of social networks becomes evident, in part thanks to their importance in crises such as natural disasters, wars and other natural and manmade conflicts, and social networking alters human relationships in profound ways.
  • Cloud computing, hyperconnectivity, the Internet of Things (all devices connected wirelessly, including cars, houses and many more) all provide benefits and raise privacy issues and these and other challenges foster the requirement of mandatory biometric IDs. Mobile devices become personal IDs and electronic wallets and credit cards disappear.
  • A new form of cyberbullying emerges. control of information flow shifts from major media corporations to gangs of powerful information leaders, and online defamation becomes common with little recourse; copyright laws crumble, new content aggregators emerge with new business models.
  • By 2015, software for real-time language translation enable a truly global communications network with real-time Internet-based information exchanges that cross all previous barriers of language and geography. This allows the tens of millions of new Internet users in China, India and Africa to make key innovative contributions to new battery technologies and other breakthroughs.
  • Growth of concerns about online safety and identity theft, coupled with viruses, malware and financial risks lead to industry and government collaboration on online safety requirements and mandated digital citizenship training in preschools and primary schools.
  • By 2025, miniaturized video is integrated into everyday life, and people record and share all of their life experiences, often broadcast live. Police access to such feeds results in fines for the breaking of laws previously unobserved – for instance, speeding and recreational drug use.

Regulation of the Internet

Molina suggested that, because of online crime, identity theft and terrorism, access to the Internet of 2025 would require biometric identification for all online users, or even a license to obtain Web privileges.

“These are things that are going to happen in about 15 years from now,” Molina said. “They are likely—beneficial or not. And we’re here to debate that.

JULY 18, 2011 - An audience member participates in the IGF-USA "Youth-Rising and Reigning" Scenario Session

Anne Collier, a participant in the discussion and youth advocate from, said government measures, such as restricting children’s access to certain websites, were ineffective at solving the issue of online security.

“Identification verification is not a solution,” Collier said, referencing a 2008 government discussion surrounding an out-of-court settlement with MySpace. “Attorneys general were looking for a prescription, which they said was age verification, and another one biometric identification. They came up with a prescription for youth safety online before there was any diagnosis.”

After a review of literature pertaining to youth online, Collier said the biggest risk for youth is the presence of cyber bullies, not online predators who would pose a threat offline.

Discussant Stephen Balkam, from the Family Online Safety Institute, said it is going to be very tempting for governments in all parts of the world to resort to requiring biometric identifications to regulate citizens’ Internet use.

“The temptations are going to be so strong,” Balkam said. “South Korea has already issued national ID numbers.”

Collier added that the notion “to control is to protect” was disturbing.

Youth Involvement

Karl Grindal, a participant from Georgetown University, said “youth” was too vague a term to discuss any single age range of Internet-savvy people, and that the youth being mentioned today are in the process of transitioning to the next phase of life.

“It’s a temporal concept,” Grindal said. “Twenty five year olds turn into 45 year olds. The discussion is more directly related to people who know how to use the Internet. In the long term, that becomes all of us—not just the youth or the middle-aged people.”

In response to one of Molina’s comments about the involvement of youth in citizen journalism, Grindal said the eventual rise of citizen journalism would not be attributed solely to youth involvement.

“Citizen journalism is not the product of youth but of a culture that tries to use the technologies,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way the youth will always rule. That group will not likely produce the majority of (Internet) content.”

JULY 18, 2011 - An audience member participates in the IGF-USA "Youth-Rising and Reigning" Scenario Session

Other participants in the discussion suggested that youth, no matter what time period in the future being discussed, would have an increasing role in the development of business, government and society because of the Internet.

William Vogt, an undergraduate student from Georgetown University and another discussant, suggested the creation of online tools to effectively involve young people in politics. One example was the creation of more online forums to give people a streamlined method of contacting their representatives, rather than calling and trying to get in touch with a secretary to leave messages. Because young people are accustomed to instant communication and platforms to express their opinions in other situations, participants said youth would expect the same type of process for political involvement.

“Right now it’s cumbersome and takes a long time to effectively contact your representatives,” Vogt said. “If we reduce those barriers, youth can participate more. They’re not going to go through a pain-in-the-ass process to do it.”

Ali Hamed of Cornell University said that between government and private sector, he believed these online tools should be produced by whoever has the most incentive to use them.

“We need to first establish who has the most to gain,” Hamed said, “and whoever has the most to gain needs to be the one to produce it.”

The discussion shifted back to considering the dangers and benefits of government involvement, regulation of the Internet and how the role of the Web and its stakeholders would shift. The majority of participants agreed that people who misuse the Web would remain determined to do so, regardless of any imposed barriers, and the leaders committed to improving users’ online experiences would see that cause through, as well.

Collier said she believed the Internet, a “constantly changing in real-time product,” gives the user, including young people, more power than ever.

“We have governments going to media companies,” she said. “We have this kind of distributed power—kind of this social contract forming.  It’s a really fascinating, fluid time where we figure out how the Internet is governed. What it serves is changing at the same time. That’s fascinating.”

– Natalie Allison