Mobilising for Digital Resilience

– A free, open and secure internet in the shifting landscapes of the pandemic

The ongoing pandemic has created a new and shifting landscape where existing structural inequalities across all levels of society have become exacerbated. In light of the pandemic, it has become clear that we are globally intertwined by the challenges we face.

The previous SIF, held in 2019, explored the “Shrinking Democratic Space Online”, which is still relevant in our current global situation. At this year’s SIF, we will highlight the current challenges the world is facing through four different thematic approaches. Each thematic approach will explore how we are coping and facing these challenges, as well as tools and means to address them.

Meaningful access
The global lockdown has confirmed our reliance on digitally networked infrastructures for autonomy, work, intimacy, care, pleasure, solidarity and public participation. At the same time, it has also clearly revealed the impact and exclusion that disparity in access and the needed devices and skills to utilise access, result in. Information about health services and aid is often reliant on messages sent through mobile phones or online application processes. A significant amount of work has shifted to online, including teaching and learning. Expressions of care have taken place mostly through online interfaces, as has personal and social interaction, cultural expression and entertainment. This theme will explore internet as a public good that all people should have access to at all times, and that, once online, they are able to benefit in ways that improves their lives and that of the communities they are part of.

Rights, resistance, and solidarity
The pandemic has further exposed many civil society organisations, human rights activists, and the media to various threats. Increased restrictions on freedom of movement and expression, tracking applications, and internet shutdowns are examples of infringements that they have been subject to, both online and offline. The situation has made it more difficult for people to exercise and defend their rights. An increase in online censorship of content, and increased adoption of surveillance technologies mean that safety, and sharing of knowledge and tactics, are at the center of mobilising for collective action. In times of crisis, many groups have emerged to help coordinate, organise, and to provide support and aid to the communities they service. During Covid-19, we have seen a proliferation of such initiatives. We have seen new successful tactics and approaches in cultivating resilience through connection. In this thematic perspective, we explore issues such as the protection of human rights, combatting gender-based violence online, and digital security and safety.

Internet governance, regulation, and accountability
A number of interconnected normative, regulatory, technological, and political processes shape the development of the internet, related technologies and services, and how we use them. The swift advancement of Covid-19 tracking applications and surveillance technologies and the use of algorithms to promote or demote content online are examples of events that directly impact human rights online. This thematic perspective addresses important issues including the application of human rights online, platform regulation, content moderation, and financial drivers of surveillance technology. SIF recognises the need for multi-stakeholder participation related processes and aims to deep dive in current research and reports, creating a platform for dialogue on on-going proposed regulations and resolutions.

Resilience, environment, and the economy
Resilience is the ability of people, communities, organisations, and nations to absorb and recover from crises, catastrophes, and shock. This whilst positively adapting and transforming their structures and means for living in the face of long-term stresses, change, and uncertainty. The pandemic provides an opportunity to look at resilience in the current context, and to understand how to strengthen it, in particular on and through the internet. In some places, information and communications technology has enabled financial and public services to move online, creating new opportunities for individuals, groups, corporations, and governments to shift their work online. Environmental impact of globalisation was made so acute when the world paused for a moment, and where impacts of climate change exacerbated an already stressful context for countries dealing with the pandemic. It provides a rare moment of clarity to examine how global commitments can shift industry, community and individual behavior. In this perspective, discussion will highlight ways forward for a rights-based digitalisation and strengthening of digital ecosystems and the environment.