Plans for the new year: defeating Digital Perseus

I officially launched Digital Medusa in September 2021. It has been challenging but also very fulfilling, and any step towards defeating digital Perseus is worthwhile. Below, I summarize some of what Digital Medusa has done over the past four months and a limited list of what will happen in the new year:

Social Media Governance 

  1. I joined the co-chairs of the Christchurch Call Advisory Committee— a civil society group that advises the New Zealand and France governments on the Christchurch Call commitments, which aim to moderate terrorist, violent extremist content. 
  2. We (Jyoti Panday, Milton Mueller, Dia Kayyali and Courtney Radsch) came up with a framework on analyzing multistakeholder governance initiatives in Content Governance. The framework will be published as a White Paper of Internet Governance Project. Let us know if you have any comments. 
  3. I joined a panel of the Paris Peace Forum on Christchurch Call. Read all about it. Watch.
  4. My research on Telegram governance became more popular after the Capitol riot in January 2021. NYT piece mentions my research
  5. I found an amazing network of people who work on prosocial design. Prosocial design and governance are alternative approaches to heavy content moderation and punitive measures for platform governance. We plan to discuss prosocial governance more in 2022. 

Internet Infrastructure

  1. I joined a group convened by Mark Nottingham to discuss how legislative efforts can hamper interoperability of the Internet, and the available remedies. 
  2. Because of the Taliban reign in Afghanistan, I wrote about how sanctions will affect Afghanistan’s access to the Internet. We also had a webinar (thanks to Urban Media Institute) with the Afghan colleagues to discuss the developments/setbacks. The video will be available on this website
  3. Fidler and I published an article in the Journal of Information Policy about Internet protocols and controlling social change. We argue that to understand Internet protocols’ effect on society we need to put them in context. Implementation matters and making Internet protocols aligned with human rights without considering context might not bring the social change needed. A lot of discussion went on about this paper on the Internet History mailing list, and there are some very interesting insights (the thread is filled with ad hominem attacks against the authors but even those attacks are good anthropological research materials.)

 

What will happen in 2022?

 

  1. I am helping draft an Internet Governance syllabus that the community can use to convene Internet governance schools and trainings. I am doing this work for the Internet Governance Forum, and it will be in a consultative manner. The plan is to come up with a global syllabus, including core modules but also modules that are elective. There will be a lot of focus on what Schools on Internet Governance (SIGs) do and helping developing countries to more easily convene schools and training on Internet governance. 
  2. Digital Medusa will do more vigorous research about sanctions that affect access to the Internet.
  3. Along with the Christchurch Call Advisory Network members, Digital Medusa is planning to be very active and find effective ways to contribute to CCAN and the Christchurch Call community. 
  4. Digital Medusa will undertake research and advocate for prosocial governance instead of just focussing on “content moderation” in Social Media Governance

 

Digital Medusa, for now, includes my (FB) activities. Hopefully, in the new year we can go beyond one Digital Medusa and attract more partners. 

Happy new year to all! To a year with fewer Digital Perseus moments and fresher digital governance point of views. 

 

Shall we resume dreaming? Decentralized web and decentralized governance 

The Internet and the world wide web are not the same thing. First, there are parts of the Internet that are not the web (the most obvious of which is email). But second, even though the web as a whole is decentralized, the design of the web is not technically a decentralized technology in the way some other Internet services are. That has had many implications for digital governance. 

In a recent paper I co-authored with professors Meares and Tyler, we include a brief history of how, gradually, communities and autonomous decision-making on the Internet turned into a centralized, top-down governance on social media platforms. One reason we have identified is the “centralized” nature of the web. (P.26) Before the web became popular, services such as Usenet operated in a decentralized manner. Multiple Internet site operators had a role to play in governing the space and it was not possible to take control of an entire operation. Attempts to impose central control resulted in people objecting and setting up alternatives.   

When the web started becoming popular, its comparatively centralized technology encouraged centralization of content and a more top-down governance approach. However, note that it was still possible to have a decentralized governance on the web and early on, platforms such as Slashdot and Wikipedia continued using a community-based governance on the web (they still more or less do). Gradually, however, new platforms emerged with a tendency to be more and more centralized. It was the website owners who would decide the governance of that site, and it is costly to set up alternatives to a site if a governance mechanism is not desirable. Economically, it was also in these platforms’ interest to keep users inside their “ecosystems”. It was easy to predict that the centralization and top-down governance approaches and the disappearing communities would eventually happen. But the question is, how innovative are we in our technological and governance approaches that can create a decentralized digital space?  

Perhaps we should be more creative than just arguing for tired content moderation governance systems and arguing with social media platforms about who is “really” in charge and keep bringing up platform responsibility. Maybe decentralized technology can help us with solving some of the contemporary social media platform problems. Last week at the Unfinished Live event Jonathan Dotan (Starling Lab) gave an excellent and powerful presentation on a new paradigm for preserving history and human rights. By creating a new “web” protocol that is decentralized, it might be more feasible to create trust in the digital records of human history— for example to preserve the accounts of a holocaust survivor or an Afghan Taliban victim. They intend to provide a way to create a chain of custody, store data in a decentralized way that cannot be manipulated or altered (but that doesn’t necessarily need consensus) and provide the ability to verify data without having to trust the source. Imagine if, instead of tech-giants, the nodes (i.e. humans) were able to authenticate a piece of data and store it.

These kinds of initiatives are worthwhile to follow as they are very issue specific and, unlike other claims about decentralized technologies, they are not too abstract. However, one thing that I think we should stop doing is to separate decentralized governance from decentralized technology discussions. The combination of decentralized governance and technology might be an answer to some of the digital problems we are facing. Perhaps MacKinnon’s thought piece about governance of Web3 is a step in that direction.

Copyright trolls are out in force around the world. And the pandemic is their perfect excuse

Farzaneh Badii, (former) Executive Director of the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, agrees, saying that the “rationale behind their actions is to generate revenue. They use and lobby for laws they can make profit from and the positive effect of these laws and harsh enforcement on the society is unfounded and mostly anecdotal.”

In Germany, explains Badii, “the wifi providers and ISPs are liable for copyright infringing if their service is used to commit the infringement.” Meanwhile in the US there are several methods lawyers use to go after alleged copyright infringements and users.

“In some jurisdictions they have to get a court order or some other legal order to get the personal information. They might also go through an easier and faster process (like a government agency tribunal). If the personal information is not protected by appropriate laws, the ISP might hand in the personal information even without a court order. And in some jurisdictions the ISP has to send the notice the lawyer has sent to the alleged copyright infringer,” explains Badii.
Badii comments that copyright trolls will tell you that “they want to protect the rights of the authors, that copyright is good for innovation and creativity! Some claim that they are protecting the Internet from dangerous materials, they argue they want to keep us safe.”

But when they use such excuses, Badii notes, “I imagine Fake Gucci bags attacking the Internet.”

Raphael Tsavkko Garcia, CyberNews

About The Author

Farzaneh Badii

Digital Medusa is a boutique advisory providing digital governance research and advocacy services. It is the brainchild of Farzaneh Badi[e]i.Digital Medusa’s mission is to provide objective and alternative digital governance narratives.