‘We must ensure that everybody participates in shaping the digital future’, Says UN Secretary-General As 12th IGF Ends

Mr. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
Mr. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The 12th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) ended at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 21, 2017 with a call by UN Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, for a participatory process in shaping the digital future.

Represented by Mr. Armin Plum of the United Nations Department of. Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Secretary-General Guterres told over 2,000 onsite participants and more than 1,600 stakeholders participating online in his closing remarks at the closing ceremony of the IGF that “We must ensure that everybody participates in shaping the digital future.”

The formal events of the forum began on December 18 and closed on 21, 2017, with the overarching theme: “Shape your digital future!”. The formal sessions of the forum were preceded by Day 0, which took place on December 17, during which over three dozen sessions were held.

In his closing remarks, the UN Secretary-General noted that an ongoing drive of the IGF was to make it outcome oriented in “delivering bottom‑up outputs” and identified the outputs as delivering safe internet, as well as other “benefits enjoyed equally in developed and underdeveloped countries.”

According to him, bridging the digital divide remained one of the key topics of the 2017 IGF, alongside the sustainable development goals, which continue to “provide a framework for dialogue on economic development, human rights, freedom of expression and gender parity online.”

The Secretary-General said: “What we see is that the IGF continues to grow as an open and inclusive discussion platform. Its growth is not only measured in the number of people or stakeholder groups who attend these meetings, but also in the ever-increasing area of topics that get discussed in the internet governance context.”

He identified some of the topics discussed at the IGF, including Artificial Intelligence, false information, the internet of things, virtual reality, among others, saying “these are all new or emerging issues that were explored in this year’s IGF.”

The Secretary-General expressed the view that over the course of the next year, we can expect new developments in digital policy to result in an expansion of the list of topics that will be discussed.

He stressed that “It is ever critical we maintain the multi-stakeholders commitment to improving on the IGF to bringing new voices and ideas” adding that “We must ensure that everybody participates in shaping the digital future.”

The forum was attended by 2,019 onsite participants, from 142 countries, representing all stakeholder groups and all regions of the world. There were 32 remote hubs organised around the world, with 1,661 stakeholders participating online.

The gender make up of the onsite participants consisted of 1,142 male, 868 female and nine participants who indicated their gender as “other” while the online participants had 998 male, 648 female and 15 participants indicatinging their gender as “other”.

The regional representation of onsite participants consisted of 216 from Africa, 367 from the Asia-Pacific region, 161 from Eastern Europe, 235 from Latin American and the Caribbean, 918 from Western Europe and 122 from international organizations.

The largest number of online participants came from the United States, Switzerland, Nigeria, China, India, Brazil, France, the United Kingdom and Mexico.

Civil society representatives made up the largest stakeholder group with among the onsite participants with 900 of them in attendance while Governments had 409, international organizations had 124, the private sector had 294, the technical community had 284 and the Media made up only eight of the participants.

The programme for the forum included four host country and ceremonial sessions; eight main sessions; 99 workshops; 45 open forums; four individual BPF sessions; 18 individual DC sessions; eight individual NRIs sessions as well as 14 sessions classified as “others”.

There were a total of 231 sessions in the overall programme, including 40 sessions held on Day 0, while 55 booths were featured in the IGF Village.

The IGF is a global multi-stakeholder forum that promotes discussions and dialogue about public policy issues related to the Internet. Although, there is no negotiated outcome document from the annual IGF, it nonetheless informs and inspires those with policy-making powers in both the public and private sectors.

The IGF was first convened in 2006 by the UN Secretary-General and the renewal of its mandate by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 consolidated its position as a platform for bringing together members of various stakeholder groups as equals.