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On May 11, 2017, the Internet Society in collaboration with the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House hosted a panel discussion on the impact of the Internet on societies.  

Over the past decades, people, businesses, and institutions have felt the depth of the technological change brought on by the Internet.  The Internet has always held the promise as a tool for advancing social and cultural understanding. And, the speed and intensity of the digital transformation has triggered all manner of utopian and dystopian perceptions. For instance, does the use of the Internet increase the possibility of misinformation and propaganda or does it allow for more meaningful engagement in knowledge production? 

When the Internet emerged as a communications medium, it provided unprecedented opportunities for individuals to connect, speak, innovate, share, be heard, and organize socially. Over the past few years and with a world order in constant transition, there is an increasing awareness that the Internet could be fundamentally undermined if current technical and social trends – such as fake news, online harassment or radicalization – continue. Can the Internet withstand those trends and emerge as a force of social and political cohesion? 

This complex question was one that the panelists were asked during the event at Chatham House.  And, there is no easy answer.  

Although everyone acknowledged the need to bring people online and to make sure that the Internet is everywhere for everyone, the question that emerges is whether societies and governance structures are fit for the Internet’s purpose. What is clear is that for addressing the social concerns of the Internet, whether social divides, prejudices, or the deepening of ethnic and social rivalries, we need the right governance tools.  Currently, we do not have them at our disposal. To this end, questions continue to persist:

How do we incentivize stakeholders engaged in and using the Internet to be more accountable?

How do we develop a set of standards to benchmark how we all behave on the Internet? 

These are some of the questions the panelists raised last week. (If you haven’t already, please take a look at the recording of the open session on Livestream or on YouTube.)

And, these are some of the questions we plan to continue discussing during our upcoming Community Forum on June 15, 2017.

What are your hopes and fears about the Internet?  How do you envision its impact on society in the future?  

Many of you have already participated in our Internet Futures project with your views and we look forward to hearing more from our community on these important questions.  These issues are also core to the Internet Society’s focus on putting the user at the forefront when considering the future of the Internet.  

So, in preparation for the Community Forum, send us your questions and comments to guide our discussion on June 15.  When you register, you will have an opportunity to share your viewpoints and questions on the future impact of the Internet on society.  

For more information on the Community Forum, visit https://www.internetsociety.org/25th/community-forum-15-june-2017.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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