APrIGF 2020 | A Virtual Experience: We made lemonade out of the virtual lemon! [Manju Chen]


Manju Chen - APrIGF 2020 Fellow, APIGA 2018 Fellow and ICANN67 Fellow

I had the honor to participate in APrIGF as a fellow. It was a shame we couldn’t gather in Nepal and enjoy the discussions physically. However, as a relatively newcomer, I think APrIGF2020 was as smooth and fulfilling as any virtual meeting could aspire to be. Below are some general thoughts and reflections of my participation in the APrIGF2020.

While in a face-to-face meeting, one can pop in and out from different sessions taking place at the same time as one wishes, or even stay in one room and follow another session virtually on her laptop or mobile devices, the same is not as feasible for virtual participation. Although all sessions were recorded, it it still very different to attend in real-time and be part of the dialogue than watching the recordings. I guess this is another downside we will have to bear with for virtual meetings. 

Technology and tech companies siginificantly shape the ‘digital reality’ we live in now. It was not a surprise that several sessions aimed to take a deeper dive into the role of internet technologies in our sociery. 

In the ‘Not just 0s and 1s’ session, all panelists emphasized the importance to engage and consult stakeholders when developing and implementing new technology, especially apps and services that claim to ‘protect’ the minority groups, for example, women. Most minority groups, as the panelists pointed out, don’t feel ‘protected’ or ‘more safe’ but rather ‘being monitored’ by such technology. The sharings were enlightening and alarming, and I wholeheartedly support all panelists’ messages. 

However, I fear every now and then that we are only talking in our echo chambers. Most of the things they said I already knew and agreed. On the other hand, and for people who simply brush away female empowerment and the intrinsic difficulties of being a woman in the current society as nonsense/whining, are we really reaching to them when we talk about ‘women’s safety’ and how we should ask women before ‘protecting’ them? How do we have a real–not superficial, not talking ‘over’ each other–conversation with those who conflate ‘being watched’ with ‘being safe’? How do we make our points more accessible for those who already bought into the idea of ‘surveillance = safety’?

During the session of ‘challenges in establishing multistakeholder collaborations’, some very noteworthy interventions happend in the chat. I want to echo and highlight the diffidulty of youth participants participating in internet governance forums: the youth community share a feeling that they (we) are, in a way, sidelined in supposedly inclusive, multistakeholder internet governance discussions. The fact that there is a youth IGF aside from the ‘main’ IGF solidifies the ’segregation’ of youth and the ‘adults/professionals’ in IG discussions. I would argue that youth is as entitled as any adult to participate fully and professionally in the multistakeholder process.

The main idea I picked up from the ’Tech Giant’ session is that we should reject the binary discourse of  ‘it’s bad tech or no tech’. We have every right to demand technologies that are sustainable, human-centered, privacy-by-default without compromising our control to our own data.

In conclusion, and as my general reflection to the APrIGF 2020, I would like to raise 2 points:

Firstly, we have to make sure that the internet is built, exercised, and regulated in a way that prioritizes the interests of individuals and communities. Technology and laws should not undermine our rights, they must make us freer and stronger, and most importantly, help us care for each other.

Secondly, I want to echo what Taiwan’s digital minister, Audrey Tang, said in the opening plenary: we should depart from the notion of digital literacy and start talking about digital competence. By moving from the top-down, educating the end-users point of view, and turn it around to the idea that everyone is a co-creator with digital competence, we can hopefully develop a digital future in an authentic multistakholder fashion.

The Internet is for every one of us. And we should step up and own it.

Author BIO

Manju Chen

Manju Chen

An internet researcher at NIIEPA who works on various projects ranging from internet governance models to cyber security. An anthropologist in the Internet Governance world. We need more anthros in here!

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