Internet governance with and for citizens

  • 21 April 2021
  • Technology
  • Maria Tazi

As the world slowly looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, we can attest that the crisis has accelerated the digital transformation across the globe in public and private sectors. This is a welcome change. 

But if half of the world’s population has been able to get through the pandemic because of remote work or digitalization, the other half still does not have access to the Internet, and therefore, cannot reap the same benefits. Worse, Internet shutdowns have increased worldwide, depriving populations with vital information at a time when this information has become a lifesaver. In Myanmar, the “information blackouts” since the military coup at the beginning of the year has blocked access to Facebook, the primary source of information in the country. It is high time that we let citizens decide what Internet tools are best for them and how to regulate them.  

Citizens reclaim the right to be integrated in Internet Governance processes 

To ensure our tech-driven future is just and equitable, we should borrow from ancient Athens by implementing large-scale citizens’ governance. Such processes exist, and it is time to take action to institutionalize Internet governance with and for citizens. 

Last year, 300 people from private and public sector from around the world came together to discuss a new digital cooperation model proposed by the High-Level Panel of Digital Cooperation and launched by Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations. This deliberative process, also known as We, The Internet deliberative processes, allowed a set of core action points to feed global discussions and action plans. This proved how stakeholders’ inputs are an asset to leaders’ decisions. 

But the voices of one main actor were missing: that of global citizens. Not only those who are connected and well-aware of the pandemic but also those who are non-connected. They too should have a place at the table and decide on how to shape the future of the Internet. 

What should we do to fight disinformation and who should ensure the quality and accuracy of the content in the Digital Public Sphere in future? How should we collectively handle the data we are producing? How should artificial intelligence be governed? And how should we make decisions on all these topics?  

Throughout the month of October, another human-centered deliberative process brought together thousands of citizens to answer these questions in the most legitimate form of policy making. By covering over 80 countries and reaching out to 5,000 ordinary people worldwide, from all continents and all social and economic backgrounds, it showcased the possibility and relevance of having deliberative governance at scale on critical topics of our digital future. 

Eight key recommendations came out from the deliberative process: 

  1.  Stakeholders should further their discussion on data by considering it as a Human Right and personal reflection. This will gather the most substantial support from citizens. 
  2. The private sector and governments should ensure that they create a strong frame for transparency if they want citizens to trust the development of a data-driven society. Everyone knows data is useful and can have many utilities, but this system must be based on trust. 
  3.  All stakeholders should urgently invest in Digital Literacy. Civil society and public bodies should take the lead. Deliberative formats are substantial leverage for awareness-raising and point at a strong potential in licking off a behavior change. 
  4.  Civil Society should take the lead for Human-based tools to ensure the quality of contents. This represents strong support for initiatives of fact-checking teams. 
  5. The Private Sector should take the lead on technical tools to ensure the quality of content.
  6. The shaping of the digital public sphere should be part of a multistakeholder, science-based process. Part of the process should take place at a more local level, part of it globally.
  7.  Stakeholders should heavily engage in setting up public conversations and engagement activities on the future of Artificial Intelligence and its governance. The fact that citizens prioritize policies on the responsibility, accountability, and privacy of AI shows that they expect decision-makers to work on concrete options for regulation and do not focus on ethics as this item comes last.  
  8. As participants are firmly in favor of a global decision-making process, they trust the United Nations and the international and regional organizations to make decisions. National governments should be less involved. There seems to be a will to go beyond national interests when it comes to the future of the Internet

It has become evident, at local and global level, that deliberative democracy is needed to reimagine a United Internet that is ethical, reliable and truly inclusive. Internet governance must be created with and for citizens and especially regarding controversial topics such as encryption, platform responsibility and accountability or even online child protection. Citizens have spoken, it is now time to take action. 

Image from We, The Internet, Missions Publiques.

Maria Tazi is Missions Publiques International Communication Manager, she is part of We, The Internet's core team and is based in Paris, France. She has been working for over a year with Antoine Vergne, Head of the We, The Internet global project and Co-Director of Missions Publiques, whose vision is to make Internet governance more open by integrating citizens' deliberations into the tech decision-making processes. Their next challenge is to implement a global Encryption Dialogue, for further details contact them at and