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Internet Governance 22 October 2014

The Rise of the Digital Citizen Stakeholder : Re-balancing Multistakeholder Governance

The Rise of the Digital Citizen-Stakeholder: Re-balancing Multistakeholder Governance is the paper written by Andrew Power.

“Many argue that multistakeholder structures are the only way to ensure that the internet – both technically  and socially — continues to evolve successfully. Do you agree with this assertion and how do you think the future will look like in the context of multistakeholder internet governance?” 

Abstract

The principle feature in the evolution of the internet has been its ever growing reach to include old and young, rich and poor. The internet’s ever encroaching presence has transported it from our desktop to our pocket and into our glasses. This is illustrated in the Internet Society Questionnaire on Multistakeholder Governance, which found the main factors affecting change in the Internet governance landscape were more users online from more countries and the influence of the internet over daily life. The omnipresence of the internet is self- perpetuating; its usefulness grows with every new user and every new piece of data uploaded. The advent of social media and the creation of a virtual presence for each of us, even when we are not physically present or ‘logged on’, means we are fast approaching the point where we are all connected, to everyone else, all the time. We have moved far beyond the point where governments can claim to represent our views which evolve constantly rather than being measured in electoral cycles.

The shift, which has seen citizens as creators of content rather than consumers of it, has undermined the centralist view of democracy and created an environment of wiki democracy or crowd sourced democracy. This is at the heart of what is generally known as Web 2.0, and widely considered to be a positive, democratising force.  However, we argue, there are worrying elements here too.  Government does not always deliver on the promise of the networked society as it involves citizens and others in the process of government. Also a number of key internet companies have emerged as powerful intermediaries harnessing the efforts of the many, and re- using and re-selling the products and data of content providers in the Web 2.0 environment. A discourse about openness and transparency has been offered as a democratising rationale but much of this masks an uneven relationship where the value of online activity flows not to the creators of content but to those who own the channels of communication and the metadata that they produce.

In this context the state is just one stakeholder in the mix of influencers and opinion formers impacting on our behaviours, and indeed our ideas of what is public. The question of what it means to create or own something, and how all these new relationships to be ordered and governed are subject to fundamental change. While government can often appear slow, unwieldy and even irrelevant in much of this context, there remains a need for some sort of political control to deal with the challenges that technology creates but cannot by itself control.  In order for the internet to continue to evolve successfully both technically and socially it is critical that the multistakeholder nature of internet governance be understood and acknowledged, and perhaps to an extent, re- balanced. Stakeholders can no longer be classified in the broad headings of government, private sector and civil society, and their roles seen as some sort of benign and open co-production.  Each user of the internet has a stake in its efficacy and each by their presence and participation is contributing to the experience, positive or negative of other users as well as to the commercial success or otherwise of various online service providers.  However stakeholders have neither an equal role nor an equal share. The unequal relationship between the providers of content and those who simple package up and transmit that content – while harvesting the valuable data thus produced – needs to be addressed. Arguably this suggests a role for government that involves it moving beyond simply celebrating and facilitating the on- going technological revolution. This paper reviews the shifting landscape of stakeholders and their contribution to the efficacy of the internet. It will look to critically evaluate the primacy of the individual as the key stakeholder and their supposed developing empowerment within the ever growing sea of data. It also looks at the role of individuals in wider governance roles. Governments in a number of jurisdictions have sought to engage, consult or empower citizens through technology but in general these attempts have had little appeal. Citizens have been too busy engaging, consulting and empowering each other to pay much attention to what their governments are up to. George Orwell’s view of the future has not come to pass; in fact the internet has insured the opposite scenario has come to pass. There is no big brother but we are all looking over each other’s shoulder all the time, while at the same time a number of big corporations are capturing and selling all this collective endeavour back to us.

 

 

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