[discuss] Internet Social Forum

Carlos A. Afonso ca at cafonso.ca
Fri Jan 23 12:39:07 UTC 2015

Dear people,

Below is an excellent response from Jeremy Malcolm (Best Bits, EFF)
regarding the proposal to create a "world social forum" of the Internet.
I am really puzzled: the call from JNC to join ISF is for governments to
occupy the Internet??

fraternal regards




Who are the Just Net Coalition and what can we expect from the Internet
Social Forum?

Jeremy Malcolm

Date: 23/1/2015 3:52 pm

Today, the Just Net Coalition (JNC) [1] has broadcast (on seven mailing
lists alone that I subscribe to) its plans for an Internet Social Forum,
modeled on the World Social Forum, the well-known anti-globalisation
summit. Just as the World Social Forum is held in opposition to the
annual Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), so the Internet
Social Forum is framed as an alternative to the NETmundial Initiative
[2], which JNC describes (inaccurately) as a project of the WEF.

Before saying anything more, I should clarify that I too have been
critical [3] of the NETmundial Initiative, I too believe that the
Internet governance status quo is overdue for reform [4], I also share
concerns about a concentration of market power [5] in the hands of
US-based Internet companies, and I do believe that governments have an
important role to play [6] in future Internet governance arrangements.
However, I won't be supporting the Internet Social Forum, because the
Just Net Coalition's objectives are misguided, and its mode of
engagement with the rest of civil society has been profoundly dysfunctional.


Who are the Just Net Coalition? I briefly mentioned them in my last post
[7], but today's announcement has raised further questions among some of
my contacts, and led others to express support the proposal despite not
knowing much of the history of those proposing it. This post is to
provide some of that necessary background, so that those who choose to
endorse the Internet Social Forum will not be taken by surprise when its
proposed “People's Internet Manifesto” takes a course with which they
may profoundly disagree.

The founding meeting of what became the Just Net Coalition February 2014
was invitation-only, and invitations were issued, in the first instance,
only to those known to by sympathetic to the views of the organisers. (A
few key individuals excluded from the first round of invitations were,
at the urging of the meeting's funder, subsequently approached with late
invitations to attend; speaking for myself as one of these, the approach
came far too late for me to make the necessary arrangements even to
obtain a visa.) Consequently, the content of that meeting's outcome
document, the Delhi Declaration for a Just and Equitable Internet [8],
was largely predetermined.

The political programme of that document (more on this below) has a long
history in a disagreement between a few individuals who were members of
the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus (IGC) [9], that has
frequently threatened to tear that group apart. On some accounts,
indeed, it has already done so – opinions vary on when or whether the
IGC “jumped the shark”, but many count it as the day at an IGC meeting
in 2013 when a prominent JNC member almost came to blows with a female
attendee in an argument, ironically, over his own overbearing behaviour.

The formation of Best Bits [10] in 2012 was (at least on my part, as one
of its founders), partly in response to the decline of the IGC and the
need for a more action-oriented, globally-inclusive civil society
community that could speak on Internet governance and human rights
issues, without requiring a full consensus which (for the IGC, at least)
had become completely unachievable. Those who now lead JNC, at the time,
also held hopes (as did we) that they too could make effective use of
Best Bits as a platform for actions and statements on which a broad
consensus could be reached, which for a time they did, but what
ultimately transpired will be recounted later.

So who are these individuals to whom I am obliquely referring? Although
I don't wish to unduly personalise this post, it is relevant that they
be identified in order to give context to the following section of this
post; and equally, it is quite proper that as spokespersons for the
group, they should be held accountable for their public behaviour and
statements. (I should also add before going further that I have had a
long record of working fruitfully with the individuals named both online
and in person, dating back to 2004. I have even retained one of them as
a paid consultant on a project I managed.)

Amongst the key individuals who have spoken publicly for JNC and who sit
on its steering committee are Parminder Jeet Singh who leads Indian NGO
IT for Change, Michael Gurstein who is a Canadian academic and edits the
Journal of Community Informatics, Norbert Bollow who is a Swiss systems
analyst and FOSS developer, and Richard Hill, former senior staff member
of the ITU, who continues to advocate for an expanded role for the ITU
on Internet-related public policy issues [11]. Many of the groups shown
as supporting the Internet Social Forum in today's announcement are
vanity or hobby projects of these founding individuals. For example
Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development and Training is
Gurstein, GodlyGlobal.org is Bollow, and Association for Proper Internet
Governance is Hill.

(You might note that the majority JNC's most vocal key figures,
including others not mentioned above such as Louis Pouzin and
Jean-Christophe Nothias, are white men from industrialised countries.
Now as a white man myself I'm certainly not one to point fingers at
them, but as an organisation that purports to be “globally concerned
with…social justice”, as JNC does [12], this lack of diversity perhaps
bears mentioning.)


The positioning of the Just Net Coalition against multi-stakeholder
Internet governance [13], and in favour of a state-centric model,
although now quite overt, became evident gradually. The Delhi
Declaration covers this obliquely, stating “The right to make
Internet-related public policies lies exclusively with those who
legitimately and directly represent people” (ie. states). Another coded
phrase the JNC has used to call for the centralisation of Internet
governance authority in states it its call for “legitimate political
authority” [14].

A turning point came at the meeting of the Working Group on Enhanced
Cooperation on Public Policy Issues Pertaining to the Internet (WGEC) of
the UN Commission for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in
April 2014. To the surprise of other civil society and technical
community delegates at that meeting, Parminder Jeet Singh insisted that
support for paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda [15] be retained in working
group's report, as the representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran also
forcefully argued. Up until then, indeed for an unbroken decade,
opposition to paragraph 35 had been a unanimous civil society position.

Paragraph 35 states (my emphasis):

We reaffirm that the management of the Internet encompasses both
technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders
and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations. In this
respect it is recognized that:

a. *Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the
sovereign right of States*. They have rights and responsibilities for
international Internet-related public policy issues.

b. The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important
role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and
economic fields.

c. *Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters,
especially *at community level*, and should continue to play such a role.

d. Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to
have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public
policy issues.

e. International organizations have also had and should continue to have
an important role in the development of Internet-related technical
standards and relevant policies.

In supporting this paragraph that constricts civil society's role in
Internet governance, Parminder said:

"I have clarity about what is the role of different stakeholders being
quite different to one another and I don't appreciate that
non-governmental actors would have the same role in decision-making than
governmental actors. That should not be acceptable at a global level."

This, translated into JNC policy and the agenda for its Internet Social
Forum, marks a profound shift away from the decentralised and horizontal
model of Internet governance that civil society had heretofore
supported, towards an hierarchical, state-led model.

For a time, JNC attempted to explain away this change by drawing a straw
man distinction between “democratic multi-stakeholderism” (which JNC
supports) and “equal footing multi-stakeholderism” (which it doesn't,
mischaracterising it as “governance by self-selected elites”) [16]. But
it has since mostly abandoned that pretense and become more overt in
promoting an intergovernmental model of Internet governance [17],
stating for example in a more recent statement, “We invite all countries
to call for a Framework Convention on the Internet and to take up
leadership in developing global Internet-related policies,” and averring
that “[w]ithout governmental support, it is difficult, perhaps
impossible to combat the dominance of global Internet monopolies” [18].

Now, I have argued elsewhere why governments ought not to have a
monopoly on the development of Internet-related public policies, but why
a model of multi-stakeholderism that includes governments as a key, but
not dominant stakeholder can still be counted as democratic [19]. You
can accept those arguments or not. If you don't, then you might come
down on JNC's side on this issue, and that would be perfectly legitimate.

But that's only half of the problem with JNC. The other half is the
toxic relationship that its representatives have cultivated with the
rest of civil society.

Relationship with civil society

At the first Best Bits meeting in 2012, much time and many pains were
taken to accommodate the demands of those future JNC committee members
who attended, and this effort did successfully result in a consensus
text to which they were willing to put their names [20]. But from this
point, their participation in Best Bits became less productive and more
divisive, largely over two issues, which were intertwined.

The first has already been mentioned: the fundamental ideological
disagreement over the legitimacy of multi-stakeholder Internet
governance, which was accepted by a majority of Best Bits participants,
but not by those who were later to split off into JNC. This disagreement
took on greater currency when the NETmundial meeting was announced and
Best Bits participants began to coordinate the development of several
joint inputs [21]. When the future JNC leaders found themselves unable
to influence the drafting of these statements to sufficiently accord
with their view that governments should have an outsized role in
Internet governance, the next best option became to disrupt the
development of those statements by hectoring, intimidating and
disparaging participants who expressed pro-multistakeholder views.

As good an example as any, and a more recent one, is Gurstein's reaction
in November 2014 to the qualified support of the Association for
Progressive Communications (APC) for the NETmundial Initiative, to which
he wrote to Anriette Esterhuysen, APC's Executive Director, “I’m taking
from your argument that because the NMI offers some possibility, however
remote for the advancement of human rights, you are completely
abandoning perhaps irrevocably, the pursuit of social justice.” To
anyone who knows of the many years of devotion that Anriette and APC
have given in the cause of social justice (and Gurstein certainly does),
this is a farcical insult.

The second issue to which the disruptive behaviour of JNC
representatives has been directed, which probably arose from the first,
were criticisms of various processes that they found themselves unable
to influence, including not only those of Best Bits, 1net [22], and the
Civil Society Coordination Group (CSCG) [23]. In a rising tide of
authoritarian behaviour, those who became JNC's leaders would demand
appointment to a position of authority or that these fledgling groups
hold elections immediately, insist that other participants in those
groups disclose of their sources of funding, and cause a commotion about
any strategic discussions that took place off-list or in closed groups.

The response of a relative outsider, Milton Mueller, to Gurstein's
demands for inclusion in 1net aptly record the frustration that many
others felt:

"Stop pretending that CI [Community Informatics] is some massive
grassroots movement related to Internet governance that deserves special
representation; and stop pretending that  your frustration with not
being selected by CS means that their procedures were illegitimate. You
[and] your group are free to contribute position papers to the process
and to attend, as far as we know. Why don’t you see how far you can get
on persuasion and education, if that’s really your mission?"

To give another example, Bollow, who had earlier demanded a full
accounting of the funding sources of Best Bits participants, wrote in
November 2013, “I hereby request the members of the BestBits steering
committee, the members of the IRP Steering Committee, and the
coordinators of the IGC to disclose any direct or indirect financial
relationship to any 'capacity building' or similar kind of project where
a US government agency is among the funders.”

Then again he wrote in October 2014 to the moderators of a closed
strategy list formed for the recent ITU Plenipotentiary meeting – a list
that he had not joined – demanding the right to “inspect” its archives
on behalf of JNC. As for the CSCG, even after it acceded to JNC's
requests and added Bollow as a representative, JNC betrayed that trust
by publishing an account of its private deliberations which criticised
other CSCG members [24], falsely stating that they had decided to
support the NETmundial Initiative.

Although some of JNC's demands of other civil society groups and
networks may have been reasonable in themselves – Best Bits, for
example, always intended to hold steering committee elections and did
hold them within a year of its formation – these demands were delivered
with such hubris and entitlement that the effect has been to isolate JNC
from other civil society groups and networks and to sow seeds of discord
that will have lasting effects.

Ironically the result has been exactly the opposite of what JNC
intended. Discussions have retreated from public, open lists into
private, closed lists – or private cc groups that are not list-managed
at all – precisely to avoid unproductive exchanges with JNC members.

Even more ironically, JNC does not hold itself to the same standards of
transparency and accountability that it demands of others; it has never
been publicly disclosed, for example, receiving funding from
ThoughtWorks, and even the list of signatories of the Delhi Declaration,
which formed the JNC's first membership list, was not made public for
months after its supposed founding, even while further statements
continued to be issued. Neither does JNC operate an open mailing list,
despite vociferous demands that other civil society networks, such as
Best Bits, should do so.

It might be countered that as pernicious as the behaviour of key JNC
members may have been, they are only individuals, and this should not be
attributed to the organisation as a whole. Whilst none of the other JNC
members has ever “broken ranks” and spoken up against even the founders,
this may not be because they are condoning their behaviour, but because
they are unaware of it, since it takes place on other civil society
mailing lists. Might a change of leadership of JNC be all that is
required? This is hard to say, and at present a moot question since no
such change is on the horizon.


What, then, can we expect from JNC's Internet Social Forum? Sadly, we
can expect that any participants who support a distributed,
multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance will be required to
check those convictions at the door, and to embrace instead a UN-based
model that places governments firmly in control of Internet public
policy development. We can expect those who deviate from this line to be
interrogated mercilessly, and accused of being props for neoliberal
hegemony and corporate domination. May JNC's “take no prisoners”
approach serve them well.

This is a shame, because a well-reasoned leftist critique of Internet
governance arrangements and reforms that directs its ire at powerful
incumbents, rather than at those who seek to forge a middle path of
inclusive multi-stakeholder governance, would actually be very valuable.
To date, JNC has exhibited no desire to provide such a sober, productive
critique, instead preferring to focus its destructive anger on easier,
weaker targets – its own civil society colleagues.



[1] http://justnetcoalition.org

[2] https://www.netmundial.org






[8] http://justnetcoalition.org/delhi-declaration

[9] http://igcaucus.org

[10] http://bestbits.net




[14] http://justnetcoalition.org/sites/default/files/NewModel_r2.pdf

[15] http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1.html

[16] http://justnetcoalition.org/sites/default/files/ITU_PP_2014_Stmt2.pdf


[18] http://justnetcoalition.org/sites/default/files/NewModel_r2.pdf


[20] http://bestbits.net/statement

[21] http://bestbits.net/netmundial-principles,
http://bestbits.net/netmundial-roadmap, and

[22] http://1net.org/

[23] http://lists.bestbits.net/info/cs-coord

[24] http://justnetcoalition.org/NMI-neoliberal-caravan


On 01/22/2015 11:47 AM, Norbert Bollow wrote:
> Global Civil Society launches the Internet Social Forum
> – With a call to occupy the Internet
> PRESS RELEASE. Geneva, Switzerland, 22st January, 2015.
> A group of civil society organisations from around the world has
> announced the Internet Social Forum, to bring together and articulate
> bottom-up perspectives on the 'Internet we want'. Taking inspiration
> from the World Social Forum, and its clarion call, 'Another World is
> possible', the group seeks to draw urgent attention to the increasing
> centralization of the Internet for extraction of monopoly rents and for
> socio-political control, asserting that 'Another Internet is possible'!
> The Internet Social Forum will inter alia offer an alternative to the
> recently-launched World Economic Forum's 'Net Mundial Initiative' on
> global Internet governance. While the World Economic Forum (WEF) and
> the 'Net Mundial Initiative' convene global elites, the Internet Social
> Forum will be a participatory and bottom-up space for all those who
> believe that the global Internet must evolve in the public interest; a
> direct parallel to the launch of the World Social Forum in 2001 as a
> counter initiative to the WEF.
> The Internet Social Forum will reach out to grassroots groups and
> social movements across the world, catalysing a groundswell that
> challenges the entrenched elite interests that currently control how
> the Internet is managed. The Internet Social Forum's preparatory
> process will kick off during the World Social Forum to take place in
> Tunis, March 24th to 28th, 2015. The Internet Social Forum itself is
> planned to be held either late 2015 or early 2016.
> “While the world's biggest companies have every right to debate the
> future of the Internet, we are concerned that their perspectives should
> not drown out those of ordinary people who have no access to the
> privileged terrain WEF occupies – in the end it is this wider public
> interest that must be paramount in governing the Internet. We are
> organising the Internet Social Forum to make sure their voices can't be
> ignored in the corridors of power,” said Norbert Bollow, Co-Convenor of
> the Just Net Coalition, which is one of the groups involved in the
> initiative.
> The Internet Social Forum, and its preparatory process, is intended as
> a space to vision and build the 'Internet we want'. It will be
> underpinned by values of democracy, human rights and social justice. It
> will stand for participatory policy making and promote community media.
> It will seek an Internet that is truly decentralized in its
> architecture and based on people's full rights to data, information,
> knowledge and other 'commons' that the Internet has enabled the world
> community to generate and share.
> Somewhat similar to Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee’s call for a ‘Magna
> Carta for the Internet', the Internet Social Forum proposes to develop
> a People's Internet Manifesto, through a bottom-up process involving
> all concerned social groups and movements, in different areas, from
> techies and ICT-for-development actors to media reform groups,
> democracy movements and social justice activists.
> This year will also see the 10 year high-level review of the World
> Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), to be held in New York in
> December. As a full-scale review of a major UN summit, this will be a
> critical global political event. Since the WSIS, held in 2003 and 2005,
> the Internet, and what it means socially, has undergone a paradigm
> shift. The WSIS witnessed active engagement of civil society and
> technical groups as well as of business. However, currently, there
> seems to be an deliberate attempt to sideline this UN-led initiative on
> governance issues of the information society and Internet in favour of
> private, big-business-dominated initiatives like the WEF's Net Mundial
> Initiative. The Internet Social Forum, while remaining primarily a
> people's forum, will also seek to channel global civil society's
> engagement towards the WSIS +10 review.
> The following organisations form the initial group that is proposing
> the Internet Social Forum, and many more are expected to join in the
> immediate future. This is an open call to progressive groups from all
> over the world to join this initiative, and participate in developing a
> People's Internet Manifesto.
> Just Net Coalition, Global
> P2P Foundation, Global
> Transnational Institute, Global
> Forum on Communication for Integration of our America, Regional (Latin
> America) Arab NGO Network for Development, Regional
> Agencia Latinoamericana de Información, Regional
> Alternative Informatics Association, Turkey
> Knowledge Commons, India
> Open-Root/EUROLINC, France
> SLFC.in, India
> CODE-IP Trust, Kenya
> GodlyGlobal.org, Switzerland
> Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development and Training,
> Canada IT for Change, India
> Association for Proper Internet Governance, Switzerland
> Computer Professionals Union, Philippines
> Free Press, USA
> Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Philippines
> Other News, Italy
> Free Software Movement of India
> Global_Geneva, Switzerland
> Solidarius (Solidarity Economy Network), Italy
> All India Peoples Science Network, India
> Institute for Local Self-Reliance - Community Broadband Networks, USA
> Please contact us at secretariat at InternetSocialForum.net for further
> information or clarification.
> Or the following regional contacts:
> Africa:        Alex Gakaru <AlexG at InternetSocialForum.net>
> Asia:          Rishab Bailey <RishabB at InternetSocialForum.net>
> Europe:        Norbert Bollow <NorbertB at InternetSocialForum.net>
> North America: Micheal Gurstein <MichealG at InternetSocialForum.net>
> South America: Sally Burch <SallyB at InternetSocialForum.net>
> This press release is also available online, e.g. at
> http://justnetcoalition.org/ISF
> _______________________________________________
> discuss mailing list
> discuss at 1net.org
> http://1net-mail.1net.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss

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