Internet Governance Doublespeak: Western Governments and the Open Internet

The Western Worlds Internet Doublespeak was showcased at the United Nations (UN) Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Discussions about Internet fragmentation and the looming splinternet are not new. They usually focus on authoritarian states that erect digital borders to separate their citizens from the open, free and secure global internet advocated by democratic countries. However, this month’s IGF demonstrated that fragmentation is more complex. We need to reflect on what fragmentation looks like and examine the role democracies are playing in this process.

For years, pundits have emphasized the tensions inherent in liberal democracies’ idealized mantra of an open, free, and secure Internet. More recently, a Council on Foreign Relations task force has called for a recalibration of US digital foreign policy on the grounds that the global internet age is over. However, the United States and other Western democracies came to the IGF committed to the mantra of openness, all while advocating policy approaches that lead to forms of Internet fragmentation. Given this tension, Western democracies and others interested in a free and open Internet need to clarify which forms of fragmentation are acceptable.

State of Play: Fragmentation across technical layers, user experience, and governance

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Avoiding Internet fragmentation was one of the five themes of the IGF. Significantly, the IGF Policy Network on Internet Fragmentation was unable to find a shared definition of fragmentation through consultation and instead released a framework defining three types of fragmentation identified by different stakeholders: technical, experience of the user and governance. This breakdown serves as a useful lens through which to consider current trends.

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