Who Should be Governing the Internet?

Life within the Internet

Governing our everyday lives

Of all Malaysians who were above the age of 15 in 2018, 81.2% of them identified as regular online users.

Every year, that percentage increases. And each passing time, the internet becomes increasingly embedded into our everyday lives. It is now difficult to identify any segments of our lives that remain completely unaffected by the internet.

As users grow more sensitive to the nuances of online life, issues of online infrastructure and policy have garnered increasing attention and discourse. We then see issues such as cybersecurity, data privacy rights, freedom of expression, and the digital divide emerging as topics for mainstream policy discourse.

It is here that the term ‘internet governance’ sees its use. Internet governance is an UN-created term, used to refer to the design and application of rules, norms, policies, and practices meant to shape the evolution and usage of the internet.

The goal of internet governance is simple. It aims to foster the creation of online environments conducive to the wellbeing of their users.

The actual complexity of the internet governance concept, however, lies in the diversity of perspectives with which you can approach it.

“Construction” of Internet Governance. Image source: dig.watch

Under the concept of internet governance, you can choose to discuss the technical infrastructure of the internet, and turn your attention towards matters of data encryption, domain name systems (DNS), and root servers.

You can also choose to go beyond these infrastructural issues, and contemplate the cultural, socio-political, legal, and economic implications of internet usage. Internet governance is a rich field – its scope is broad enough for everyone to be able to find at least one topic of personal interest.

The situation in Malaysia

Now, you might want to concern yourself with the state of internet governance in Malaysia.

Recall the government’s RM 21.6 billion National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan, as outlined in Budget 2020. The plan aims to enhance digital connectivity for the well-being of the people, through the development and deployment of digital infrastructure. If successful, the plan would strengthen the Malaysian digital community.

However, should we let this project limit the scope for potential action in Malaysian internet governance?

Governance of the internet should not be restricted to the government.

Decision-making processes about the institutional design of the internet are too complex to be centralised on to any single actor. The diversity of perspectives with which to approach the topic creates the need for insights from a variety of stakeholders, including civil society.

A governance architecture that benefits everyone is not possible without horizontal communication and coordination between actors. Given the highly unique ways in which each and every one of us interacts with the internet, every stakeholder is capable of bringing valuable insight to internet policy.

If you are a youth reading this article, it is your perspective in particular that needs to be given more weight in internet governance discussions.

In all likelihood, you spent a large portion of your childhood or young adulthood being socialised through the Internet. You have a greater stake in this. You are in a better position than most non-youth to give meaningful social context to the workings of the internet – contexts which are essential in the design of productive internet governance.

The digital realm already constitutes an intrinsic layer of your life – who better to understand and translate the cultural and sociopolitical nuances of the internet than you?

Youths governing themselves on Internet

Backbone campaign to defend the internet. Image source: flickr.com

Know that the best thing that you can do for internet governance is to speak up about it.

If, for example, you find yourself getting all hot and bothered about stuff like online harassment or the state of data protection in Malaysia, then rant about it online! Join internet governance forums and online discussion groups to make your voice known.

Go ham on your Twitter, impassion other people, create discourse, start a movement. Generating change is all about generating momentum.

There are many ways one can choose to interpret the internet. It can be a liberalising force for some, it can be a tool of repression for others. Whichever way the internet manifests itself depends very strongly on the quality of its governance.

The internet is a mostly malleable thing anyway. Mould it the way you want.

Disclaimer: An edited version of this article was originally published by the same author in The Star Online on the 28th of October, 2019.

Written by Xin Dee

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the position of UNMC IGNITE.

Stay opinionated, stay unbothered.

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