The United Nations' Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which is a global example of multi-stakeholderism, had its 12th session in Geneva Dec. 18-21, 2017. To promote discussions and information sharing between various stakeholders about new public policy issues related to the Internet, the IGF was first convened in 2006, and since then there have been regular annual sessions. Although it has no power to make binding decisions, it is a forum that provides an opportunity to exchange information, inspire state and non-state actors about how opportunities can be maximized, while addressing emerging risks and challenges.
"Shaping your digital future!" was the title of this year's session – and it has educational, social, economic and cultural connotations when read carefully. Indeed, in line with this title, individual countries have long been taking steps to ensure that they are keeping up to date with the advances made and are concurrently updating their policies to maintain global competitiveness in the digital world - from updating their education curriculum to incorporate digital skills to upgrading their workforce skill in this area. As part of this, an increasing number of countries, including developed, developing and undeveloped, are having national IGFs to promote cooperation and coordination between various stakeholders at a national level to look at the issues and opportunities. There are also regional IGFs held regularly to promote regional cooperation and information sharing.
Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to be among those countries that have been holding national IGFs, nor does it appear to be part of any regional IGFs. Of course, it is not imperative to hold national IGFs or be part of regional IGFs, but the nature of the digital world warrants continuity of networking, participation, evaluation and conformity with advances to maintain competitiveness. Considering this from the angle of the argument that Dmitry Epstein makes in terms of how through IGF meetings a series of terms are produced to define and eventually regulate the Internet and how this eventually impacts how policies are created by governments, it is vital for countries of varying economic growth, culture and social norms to be part of such discussions to promote the most diverse representation.
There appears to be large-scale, multi-disciplinary research into Internet governance, which is an area that continues to be subject to ongoing debates and discussions by various stakeholders at the national and multi-national levels. Looking at the research in this area, there are two assertions that are intriguing. First, there are researchers like Milton Muller who draw attention to the issue of this subject being reduced to an exaggerated dichotomy between cyberlibertarianism and cyberconservatism. Drawing on Muller's views, Laura De Nerdis in her article, "Emergence Field of Internet Governance," elaborates on how the Internet is more complicated than being just a dichotomy of cyberlibertarianism and cyberconservatism, setting out the complexities of five key Internet areas – control of critical Internet resources, Internet protocol design, Internet governance-related intellectual property rights, Internet security and infrastructure management and communication rights. De Nerdis outlines how each of these areas are complicated and have implications for various stakeholders on their own.
On the other hand, there are researchers like Joseph Savirimithu who argues in his book, "Online Child Safety," that the online environment does not introduce any additional jurisdictional challenges that have not been encountered previously.
The following thoughts in the foreword of Savirimithu's book are intriguing:
"At some point in an indeterminate future historians will argue about how it came to pass that towards the end of the twentieth century and a little way into the twenty-first, otherwise intelligent people claimed that the Internet was entitled to sit, indeed according to them optimally should sit, outside the ordinary discourse of public policy making and law making. Governments, Parliaments, Senates were held to be if not exactly completely redundant then certainly as being of limited use when grappling with both the challenges and the opportunities which this singular and exciting technology was starting to present."
In the real world, regardless of their size, scale, type or function, all organizations are subject to internal and external rules and boundaries as well as being subject to both internal and external inspections. Even governments' work is monitored against their duties and responsibilities by legislatures. This being the case, the fact that there is not an independent standard-setting body that governs the Internet or Web 2.0 technologies brings up the question of what is going on.
Going back to the point that Epstein makes about the formative role of global forums in the creation of the language and policies governing the net, the first definition of Internet governance, which was made at the U.N.'s World Summit on the Information Society in 2005, reinforces this argument, as it seems to have laid the ground for how Internet governance should be perceived:
"Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet."
As discussed, although this definition/s or forums are not binding, looking at the research in this field with the above definition and many other terms developed during such forums inevitably influence research and policymaking. Contrary to the traditional role of governments and legislatures in governance, this definition points to the representation of the industry and civil society in this area. Perhaps as pointed out by De Nerdis, the issue is extremely complicated and, thus, requires a multistakeholder approach. However, it is clear that the industry functions with economic interests, while various civil society organizations have their own individual agendas.
Going by the above definition, a number of questions come to mind: Is there a calculated effort of physically opening a new chapter of embedding huge global enterprises alongside governments in "the development and application of shared principles, norms, rules, decision making procedures and programs the evolution and use of the Internet? Given that there is such a trend, how will it be ensured that the industry (global enterprises) does not have the upper hand in all of these? Will there be a gradually planned and skillfully mastered legitimization of global enterprises entering into physical governance of the net? And finally, will this, over time, have implications in other areas of governance, as it would set a precedent if eventually realized?
Compounded with these questions, considering the arguments around governments being redundant – if not exactly – in this particular subject with Zygmunt Bauman's notion of the "absence of society," it brings up the question of whether in addition to the absence of society, governments' role will ebb in the long run as global enterprises increase in number and appeal to the global rather than local or national only. Especially given the global addiction, and thus the global support by consumers of the services of these enterprises (one component of legitimization) around the globe, can this be ever avoided?