ICT4D.at at The World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 discussing DESC and acting as a HLTF

The final week of the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 (WSIS) from the 30 May to 3 June 2022 was held at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The WSIS Forum 2022 represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. I had the pleasure to attend four days, participate in a panel about our work with DESC and act as a High Level Track Facilitator.

The WSIS Forum hashtag with a heart
Source: The World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

DESC at the WSIS Forum 2022

Together with Tim Unwin, Knud Erik Skouby, Suay Melisa Ozkula/Oezkula and Carlos Álvarez Pereira I had the pleasure to discuss our current DESC initiative which we joined some time ago and is led by the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D. We had 45 minutes to discuss with the audience what Digital-Environment System Coalition stands for and what we aspire to work on over the next couple of years. We started to answer the question “why do we need to have a new way of conceptualising the interactions between digital and the environment?” and then invited the audience to discuss with us “what are the big questions that you would like DESC to address?”. A broad discussion started about:

  • Why the current IT industry is not sustainable at the core by the definition of their business models and how planned obsolescence is still deeply rooted in the industry.
  • The lack of regulation and consistent measurements in the digital world to ensure the longevity of devices and software as well as the right to repair.
  • Why we need a holistic approach to tackle the climate crisis and not excessive focus on carbon imprint alone as ITs are everywhere and touch all aspects of our planet. While being a big part of the problem, they could also be a part of the solution.
  • How many aspects of environmental impacts of the digital world are not even broadly discussed yet, such as outer space pollution.
  • How can we develop new standards, policies and regulations which have sustainability a the core, offer choice and ensure minimum environmental harm and maximum benefit.
  • How can we take back control from big software companies currently running and exploiting the internet and what decentralization and democratizing the internet again could mean for the environmental impact of the internet

If you are as well interested in these questions and can see yourself contributing to our coalition, then please send us a message to team up. As of today, we only have 7,5 years left to ensure our survival and we are running out of time.

High-Level Track Facilitator

I had the honour to act as a High-Level Track Facilitator (HLTF) and was nominated to moderate the High-Level Policy Session 11 titled “Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content/Ethical Dimensions of Information and Knowledge Societies/Media/ICTs and Gender Mainstreaming”. The High-Level Policy sessions gather high-ranking officials of the WSIS stakeholder community, representing the government, private sector, civil society, academia and international organizations.

After several briefing sessions and preparations I welcomed on the third day several ministers, general directors, activists, CEOs and presidents with a broad spectrum of backgrounds and opinions, you can find the full list here. I must admit that at the beginning I was quite nervous as the panel consisted of renowned experts and/or panellists from the highest ranks of governments. After the first adrenaline rush, I started to very much enjoy moderating the session and it was delightful to hear all their opinions. Taking notes, summarizing their 5 minutes statements and ending the session on time was quite a captivating challenge.

After the session I only had a couple of hours to write a summary. The summary had to be submitted as soon as possible following the conclusion of my session to enable the secretariat to brief the chairman on the outcomes and finalize the WSIS Forum 2022 policy session outcome document. Afterwards I orally summarized session 11 and presented the results to the board of the chairman and I took the opportunity to take a stand for all the key statements underlined during my session. Furthermore, I had the pleasure to summarize the results of Session 11 in an interview you can watch here:

WSIS FORUM 2022 INTERVIEWS: Multi interview High Level Track Facilitators

Written Summary

Find here my written summary for the WSIS Forum 2022 policy session outcome document:

The high level policy session 11 entitled “cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content/Ethical Dimensions of Information and Knowledge Societies/Media/ICTs and Gender Mainstreaming” welcomed a diverse panel of experts mirroring the wide range of topics. The discussion and statements covered WSIS Action Lines C8, C9, C10 and C11 while contributing to SDGs 5, 9, 16 and 17.

Participants of session 11 actively promoted further tightening the collaboration of all member states of the United Nations. The discussed issues concerning the internet, online media, global ethical ICT standards and gender equality are a global phenomenon and can only be solved with close collaboration. Especially a focus on small and middle-sized countries should be encouraged, and their participation should be actively promoted, to allow them to participate on an equal level.

There was a broad consensus that current ICTs and the internet as such are not welcoming and not actively supporting culturally diverse content. It was stated that the world is getting more and more socially divided by culture and languages, especially on the internet. The main challenges for governments are the lack of investment for translations and the limited research conducted on local cultures and languages. Local content creators were several times stated as a way forward, which would grant more people access to local and relevant content. This would especially include the elder and younger generations who are currently widely excluded from accessing content online due to cultural and language barriers. Digital literacy, focused research on local cultures and further educational programs to promote local content creators are of the essence. Tools to work for all languages need to be developed and promoted.

Several panellists raised their concerns about the current state of freedom of speech, equal access to the internet, active censorship, internet shut-downs, freedom of expression and the quality of information online and in modern media. Quality content versus misinformation has become a serious challenge and people lack the essential digital literacy skills to distinguish between them. Only intensive trainings and awareness campaigns can counter the decrease of online quality content and how it is perceived.
Journalists are currently heavily under attack and are facing threats on- and offline, especially women and girls. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press must be ensured. The fragmentation of the internet, the so called Splinternet, is a growing concern and endangers a global internet where people can freely exchange information and connect. A shared belief that the internet must be open for everyone was underlined several times.

The gender digital divide was firmly discussed as the current COVID-19 pandemic exponentially increased online harassment. There is still a lack of data, but first evidence surfaced that ID theft, hate campaigns, sexual harassment, deep fake pornographies and other forms of harassment against women still heavily persist in the online world. It is of the essence to define all types of violence against women to make predators accountable for their crimes. Women and girls need a safe space online to freely express their thoughts, participate online and access quality content. Unfortunately many women are still not aware of their digital rights or are not able to execute them. Further awareness programs are needed to strengthen women’s rights online. Actions conducted by the panellists were local studies all over the world, developing policy guidelines, further promotion of women in ICTs and to create a coalition for safe internet access.

Concerns about ethical aspects of upcoming and current technologies were raised during most of the statements. The erosion of privacy and the lack of data ownership is an increased threat to free societies. Only a few companies are in control of future technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics or the metaverse and will dictate their rules upon their users. Online security, mass surveillance and the impact on businesses pose an additional challenge to the freedom of the internet. Decentralization of the internet to break the power of the big players and promote diversity must be on top of the agenda for the upcoming years.

Case Examples

– World Press Freedom Day Global Conference, Punta del Este, Uruguay organized by the UNESCO
– WSIS Forum 2022 Hackathon — ICTs for Indigenous Languages. ICTs for Preservation, Revitalization and Promotion of Indigenous Languages: Leaving no one behind, no one outside
– UN Women’s actions such as the International Girls in ICT Day 2022: Access and Safety or the Handbook on gender-responsive police services for women and girls subject to violence
– Infopoverty World Conference, The Digital Citizen: Duties and Rights to Build a Fairer Future Society
– EWA-Belt Project, Linking East and West African farming systems experiences into a BELT of sustainable intensification

It was truly an honour and a blast to act as a HLTF. I had a wonderful time with my HLTF colleagues and I would like to once more congratulate and thank the organizers of the WSIS forum for their outstanding work.

I wish that I could report more about all the other sessions at the WSIS Forum, but I was way too occupied with my HLTF duties and could not enjoy many other sessions. One of the few I listened to and I would like to highlight was Session 475: WSIS Gender Trendsetters. As part of WSIS’ work on gender mainstreaming, WSIS Gender Trendsetters have been appointed to act as trailblazers and take action in strengthening gender equality. I very much enjoyed their discussions and hope to hear from them in the future. See you in 2023!

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ICT4D.at at The World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022 discussing DESC and acting as a HLTF
was published on 19.06.2022 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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