IGF2017 Day Zero: Is the Internet Broken, and Can It Be Fixed?

The Internet certainly is making it possible to deal with problems associated with distance and distribution costs, notably when it comes to access to information. To use an analogy used by Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, it is a power tool. However, when a power tool slips, it can do powerful damage.

 

Whether it is down to maturity, realism, or pessimism, there were was little in the way of unquestioning praise for the Internet and its potential at Day 1 of the 2017 Internet Governance Forum. Already in its 12th edition, it is clear that many of the negative behaviours and trends in the real world are simply replicating themselves online, and new harms, or impacts are emerging.

 

Just as laissez-faire has been abandoned in real life, there is a sense that action – intervention – is needed to ensure that everyone can benefit from the potential of the Internet. Just as good government should work to protect rights and bring benefits to all, so too should Internet governance.

 

We need an intelligent approach. Physical connectivity doesn’t mean that all users connect, let alone that they can use the Internet to improve their lives. Making apps and MOOCS available, doesn’t necessarily make for effective education. ‘Banning’ fake news risks censoring a legitimate opinion.

 

The two sessions IFLA attended on Sunday focused on ways forwards, and in particular how actors – businesses, content producers, schools, civil society, parents, and libraries – can work together to make the Internet work.

 

The first, organised by the IEEE, looked at how we can cooperate to deliver all dimensions of internet inclusion, with particular working groups on public access and digital literacy. Libraries have a key role to play in both, providing free, trusted services tailored to local needs.

 

The second, organised by Divina Frau Meigs – an author of IFLA’s Trend Report – looked at how to develop skills for a digital world. While libraries have long taught information literacy, the spread of the Internet has made this more important than ever.

 

 

With it increasingly widely accepted that the positive change promised by the Internet cannot be taken for granted, libraries have an important role in making it work for all.

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