2024 Abstracts of presentations

Paper Panel Session 1: Assessing the Multistakeholder Model
TheBig Tech-Big Power Politics Archives”
Malcolm Campbell-Verduyn and Marianne Franklin, University of Groningen


A number of academic fields have been engaging the ‘geopolitics of Big Tech’ in recent years. Which ‘non-state’ actors can and do exercise forms of ‘sovereign’ power over, and through internet technologies (from the Domain Name System to Generative AI; from streaming and social media platforms to smartphone designs and data-governance regimes) is no longer an academic question. The global corporations, US-owned for the most part but not exclusively, falling under the Big Tech rubric are firmly in charge despite the ‘return of the state’ as a late comer stakeholder in strategic agendas for the now-merged telecommunications, internet, and hi-tech sectors. The geopolitical and techno-economic power presiding behind our screens has been thrown into the spotlight of public and political debates about the future of planet Earth and well-being of its inhabitants framed as a techno-economic, rather than a political let alone sociocultural issue.

This paper considers the theoretical implications of shift in understandings of de jure sovereignty- from territorially bounded states and their multilateral institutions – to the de facto and embedded infrastructural power and legitimized influence of ‘Big Tech’ in the geopolitics of internet governance from a critical interdisciplinary perspective. The conceptual exegesis is supported by combining the findings from the authors’ respective decades of interdisciplinary research, teaching and policy work into the “intersectionality’ of Big Tech, Big Power politics, and the digital networks of ‘Big Internet’. We show by way of illustration, through visiting selected and conjoined findings, how diverse exercises in geopolitical power plays operating on multiple scales of formal and informal state-sanctioned involvement in internet/technology agenda-setting have been intrinsic to the global success of the latest generations of ‘Big Tech’. We also consider ways in which interdisciplinary insights can further fruitful conceptual interactions between International Relations (IR) and two fields that have been most attuned to the ‘politicization’ of internet/media governance, namely Media and Communications and Science and Technology Studies. We posit that while the latter two fields have provided crucial micro and meso-levels of empirical analysis (that go begging in IR macro-level theory and research into Big Tech) prominent conceptualizations of power hover at the descriptive level. In order to explicate how Big Tech activities effectively co-constitute, do not simply mimic geopolitical power at the national, regional and international levels, we look to critical schools of IR theory and research that have been problematizing state-centric, media-centric, and techno-centric theoretical and empirical research modalities.

The paper concludes with a call for the study of the geopolitics of Big Tech that combines the nuances of close-up, embedded empirical research from Media and Communications and STS with the bird’s eye-view of critical IR schools. We argue that only this constellation, allowing space for ‘thinking big’ along with the granularity of long-term empirical commitment, can reveal how sovereignty within, and for digital networked domains is not a given. It remains under constant flux hence any claims for legitimacy, or ownership – de facto or de jure ‘sovereignty’ – are the expression and locus of power-in-the-making.

Multistakeholder Global Governance at ICANN: A Cross-Level Analysis of Legitimacy
Hortense Jongen, Free University Amsterdam; Jan Aart Scholte, Leiden University


This paper provides a first empirical analysis of cross-level and combined sources of legitimacy beliefs in multistakeholder governance of the internet. Multistakeholderism takes a prominent place in global internet governance, offering an important alternative to multilateralism. Its advocates often present multistakeholder governance as more effective, democratic and fair than multilateralism. Yet how far have these multistakeholder initiatives been able to attract legitimacy in practice? And, to the extent that this mode of governance is perceived as legitimate, where do those legitimacy beliefs come from?

Little existing research has developed systematically theorized and empirically grounded accounts of legitimacy in multistakeholder internet governance. The few past studies of this kind – including our own earlier analyses – have focused on a single level. That is, they have examined sources of legitimacy perceptions in relation to either individual-level qualities or organizational-level features or societal-level conditions. Individual-level explanations attribute legitimacy beliefs to attributes of the person holding them, such as interest calculations, identity orientations, and trust dispositions. Institutional-level explanations suggest that legitimacy perceptions arise from the features of governing institutions, such as their purposes, procedures, and performances. Societal-level explanations, in turn, locate the sources of legitimacy beliefs in characteristics of the wider social order, such as cultural norms, economic systems, and political regimes.

This paper takes a novel turn by for the first time offering a cross-level approach. First of all, we pursue an intuition that circumstances at all three levels (individual, organizational, and societal) shape legitimacy beliefs. Second, we explore how circumstances across different levels can have a combined effect on legitimacy beliefs. Third, we examine whether circumstances that are not significant when treated only at a particular level can become significant when they interact with circumstances at other levels.

Theoretically, we argue that each level is nested in the other two: individuals relate to multistakeholder initiatives through organizational settings and social structures; multistakeholder bodies operate through individual officials and citizens; and social structures are expressed in multistakeholder arrangements through individual and group actors. Logically, then, we should expect that circumstances at all three levels are relevant to the construction of legitimacy beliefs vis-à-vis multistakeholderism, and that features at each level are shaping and being shaped by features at the other two levels. Moreover, building on the principle of structuration, or co-constitution of levels, we explore whether and how interaction among individual, organizational, and societal circumstances can provide a fuller account of legitimacy in global Internet governance.

For empirical examination of these propositions, we look at data from a large-N survey of participants in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a prominent instance of multistakeholder global governance in the Internet ecosystem. Overseeing several key technical aspects of the technical infrastructure of the Internet, ICANN plays a vital role in enabling the functioning of the global Internet. ICANN has often presented its multistakeholder model, which brings together representatives from academia, business, civil society, governments and technical circles, as a prime formula for legitimacy and an example for other global governance arrangements. This raises the questions: What drives legitimacy towards this important instance of multistakeholderism in global internet governance? And what individual-, institutional, and societal-level factors (and combinations thereof) matter in shaping legitimacy beliefs toward ICANN?

Our unprecedented cross-level statistical analyses find that certain (but not all) of the investigated individual, organizational, and societal conditions associate significantly with legitimacy beliefs toward multistakeholderism at ICANN. Thus, all three levels matter, but not everything at each level matters. We further find that certain logically associated conditions at different levels (e.g. self-interest calculations at the individual level plus approval of capitalist structures at the societal level) matter for legitimacy at ICANN in combination. At this moment in time we are still analyzing whether, in addition, interaction effects can make certain conditions that are not significant for legitimacy when treated in isolation may become significant in combination with certain other conditions at a different level. Whatever the result of those explorations, the paper will break important new ground for cross-level analysis of legitimacy in multistakeholder governance of the internet.

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth: When Multistakeholderism Hampers Accountability
Triantafyllos Kouloufakos, KU Leuven


The cyber domain is by design a multi-stakeholder domain. Having for years rejected the theories of a state-focused cyberspace, the internet is full of stakeholders that are vying for a seat at the table. States try to exercise their sovereignty with varying degrees of problems, companies are seeking profit, and everyone gets to use the infinite benefits of this domain. Based on this, we can observe at least the last fifteen years a push for multi-stakeholder governance with every actor that is engaged in cyberspace, wanting to be able to take decisions about the future of cyberspace. This has contributed to an (almost) democratic, pluralistic cyberspace. Nevertheless, presence of such a multitude of stakeholders includes a series of (dire) disadvantages. Specifically in terms of accountability, in particular for states. For state responsibility to be established two elements are needed, an international act and the attribution of said act to a state. When a catastrophic cyber-attack happens, it is increasingly difficult to connect it to a state. Malicious cyber-attacks are usually perpetrated by non-state actors which benefit from the presence of such a plethora of stakeholders and become a ‘face in the crowd’ obscuring their potential relationships with states. An international wrongful act that is perpetrated by a non-sate actor is attributed to a state, if a) the non-state actor is an organ of the state, b)if the non-state actor has been empowered to exercise governmental authority c) if the non-state actor is directed or controlled by the state and d) if a state acknowledged and adopts the act of the non-state actor. All the aforementioned, rarely or never happen in cyberspace as most of the times non-state actors obfuscate any relations that they have to certain states. Furthermore, cyberspace offers great potential for anonymity or deniability as even if a state-owned computer is identified, this only serves as an indication, since it may have been hijacked by non-state actors. Moreover, attribution requires evidence, yet too often states remain unwilling to co- operate in post-attack investigation as they do not want to appear weak in all the different stakeholders in the field.

In this paper, I will argue that the multistakeholder character of cyberspace presents problems for the traditional state responsibility paradigm. In order to present the shortcomings of the existent system I will conduct evaluative research into the law of state responsibility in order to comprehend why its application to cyberspace is not sufficient. To achieve that objective, I will research state practice in the field of attributing cyber-attacks or responding to allegations of being a perpetrator of cyber-attacks and to what extent and in what ways they employ the language of state responsibility. Concurrently, I will be reviewing the published opinions of states on how international law applies to cyberspace, specifically the opinion of states on state responsibility, as well as the academic discourse on the issue of applying state responsibility to cyberspace.

Assessing Multistakeholder Governance of Content: Comparative Analysis of the Christchurch Call and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism
Jyoti Panday, Georgia Institute of Technology


The academic literature on Internet governance has noted that multistakeholder governance involving non-state actors is one way to handle policy problems that are transnational in scope (e.g. Malcolm, 2008; Mueller, 2010; DeNardis & Raymond, 2013; Belli, 2015; Hofmann, 2016). A small number of studies are now focusing on the way global platforms based in liberal democracies are using multistakeholder approaches in the area of platform content governance (Gorwa, 2019; Panday et al. 2022; Celeste et al, 2023). In dealing with issues as contentious as content regulation, it is important to understand the specific institutional arrangements that develop under the rubric of “multistakeholderism”. While multistakeholder approaches hold the potential to enhance inclusivity and broaden decision-making perspectives, the effectiveness of such multistakeholder institutional arrangements and the power relations among the participants are rarely critically analyzed.

In this paper we examine two prominent multistakeholder initiatives focused on the regulation of online terrorist and violent extremist content (TVEC) the Christchurch Call (CC Call) and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) to assess the way they distribute power among stakeholder groups. This paper aims to go beyond the state-platform scope of analysis to incorporate civil society actors’ contribution to a globalized regime of content moderation.

The CC Call, prompted by the Christchurch mosque shootings, initially formed as a transgovernmental network and later evolved into a transnational coalition, incorporating voluntary commitments from governments and major online platforms. Civil society pressure led to the establishment of the Christchurch Call Advisory Network (CC-AN), facilitating broader stakeholder engagement. Tech-corporations work with civil society and the governments who have signed on to the call to come up with implementation plans that usually take place in workstreams. Aside from the workstreams and CCAN, civil society also participates through multistakeholder “focus groups” convened by the NZ and FR governments on a variety of issues. The GIFCT is an industry-led initiative combating TVEC online established in 2017 by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube. Post-Christchurch shootings, the GIFCT aligned with the CC Call and restructured as an independent nonprofit. GIFCT’s core goals include leveraging technology, fostering multi-stakeholder engagement, promoting civil dialogue, and advancing understanding of extremist operations. In June 2020, an Independent Advisory Committee (IAC), including government and civil society representatives, was established to provide oversight and guidance. GIFCT also operates working groups in which civil society participates to address thematic areas and partners with the Global Network on Extremism and Technology (GNET) for academic research.

This paper finds that governments, tech companies, and civil society organizations come with different capacities and have differing priorities or interests resulting in substantial variance in their commitment to and influence within multistakeholder arrangements. Achieving a balance in the representation of different stakeholder groups is difficult and even when represented civil society struggles to participate on an equal footing with more powerful stakeholders.

Exploring Digital Constitutionalist Advocacy Coalitions in the Global Multistakeholder Internet Governance (1992-2023)
Dennis Redeker, University of Bremen; Mariëlle Wijermars, Maastricht University; Nicola Palladino, University of Salerno


Multistakeholderism has been the dominant discursive order in the Internet governance field since it emerged as an ambiguous compromise between neoliberal and sovereigntist approaches during the WSIS. Since then, there has been a struggle to define the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders and the most appropriate governance arrangements. Since then, another governance approach emerged that aims to actualize multistakeholderist commitments towards inclusiveness and human rights, while transforming them from rhetorical statements to enforceable policy. This approach is known as digital constitutionalism.

Digital constitutionalism is linked to so-called digital bills of rights, which articulate demands for rights and principles in the digital environment. In this paper, we investigate how the movement that finds expression in these documents has evolved over the last 30+ years. In so doing we will address the following research questions: How have the issues addressed in these documents changed over time? Which values and rights claims are articulated in which hierarchical order? Which actors have played a leading role, and which are absent? Can different approaches, frames, and contextualizations of rights be identified? To what extent has the clash between neoliberals and sovereigntists reverberated in these documents, and thus in the digital constitutionalism movement?

We adopt a revised version of the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) approach to investigate actor’s deep core beliefs regarding the underlying philosophy about human nature and society, as well as policy core beliefs concerning fundamental policy positions. The ACF has long been used for (domestic) political process analysis but we are adapting it to serve in analyzing the transnational Internet governance field. Analyzing the advocacy coalitions behind the digital bills of rights, we are able to discern not just positions that are linked to the digital constitutionalism movement, but also to what extent such advocacy coalitions tend to be in agreement with neoliberalist or sovereigntist positions in Internet governance.

In the current paper, we analyze 321 digital bills of rights, which have been published by a diverse set of actors, often large advocacy coalitions, between 1992 and 2023. This corpus is broadly focused on Internet governance (following the broad definition of the Working Group on Internet Governance), even though some documents lay their focus on specific objects of governance, such as platforms or AI. The resulting dataset has been hand-coded for a number of meta codes and 69 different rights and principles such as the right to privacy, children’s rights or the right to free expression. The extensive scope of the dataset allows us to generate unique insight into the development of multistakeholderism in Internet governance. By applying semantic and affiliation network analysis to the corpus, we investigate quantitatively how actors have been grouping around these rights claims and policy options, and how this has evolved over time. Findings suggest a shift from a pattern centered on freedom of expression toward a more complex scenario with a greater variety of concerns and actors involved, as well as increasing attention to procedural guarantees, both in the private and public sectors

Paper Panel Session 2: Multistakeholderism in the Global South
Multistakeholderism in the Global South: A Comparative Study of AFRINIC, APNIC, and LACNIC
Debora Irene Christine, Tifa Foundation; Nahema Nascimento Falleiros, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; Gloria Nzeka, University of Maryland


Multistakeholder arrangements are especially prevalent in internet governance at the global level and in the Global North. Most existing research on multistakeholder governance of the internet looks at these quarters. In contrast, this paper examines how multistakeholder practices play out in internet governance at the regional level and in the Global South. The discussion centers on three Regional Internet Registries (RIRs); namely, AFRINIC (for Africa), APNIC (for Asia-Pacific), and LACNIC (for Latin America-Caribbean). The paper thereby offers the first-ever comparative analysis of multistakeholderism in the South-based RIRs. The paper is also unique for being co-authored by three emerging scholars from the three Global South regions.

The RIRs have a less formally systematized multistakeholder approach than, say, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Still, policy processes at the RIRs involve collaboration among technical experts, business enterprises, and civil society actors. The RIRs, therefore, play a crucial role in governing the technical layer of the internet; yet they (and in particular AFRINIC, APNIC, and LACNIC) have received comparatively little research attention. A multistakeholder analysis of the workings of RIRs is, thus, a relevant and important contribution to the study of Internet governance.

Our paper first sets the stage by describing how the three South-based RIRs operate, in particular how they bring a regional dimension to internet governance. Second, we examine in what ways and to what extent different stakeholder groups engage with AFRINIC, APNIC, and LACNIC. Third, we explore how far the different stakeholder groups have similar or, more interestingly, different perceptions of these three RIRs. In particular, do they have contrasting levels of confidence in these RIRs as well as different considerations in making those judgments?

To make this analysis, we draw upon data from a recent unique mixed-method survey covering over 400 respondents from the boards, staff, member organizations, and other participants in AFRINIC, APNIC, and LACNIC.

Hybrid Multistakeholderism in Moroccan Digital Governance: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation
Serena Fraiese, University of Salerno



This paper delves into the unique fusion of governance models within Morocco’s digital policy landscape, characterized by the coexistence of traditional hierarchical governance and inclusive multistakeholder practices. This study aims to dissect the operational dynamics, challenges, and successes of Morocco’s hybrid governance model, with a focus on its implications for digital sovereignty and the broader internet governance ecosystem.

Theoretical Framework

The study introduces “Hybrid Multistakeholderism” as a novel theoretical framework to analyze the intricacies of Morocco’s digital governance. This framework posits that the effectiveness and inclusivity of governance in the digital domain can be significantly enhanced by integrating traditional state-centric approaches with participatory multistakeholder mechanisms. The rationale behind this framework is to capture the nuanced interplay between Morocco’s entrenched governance traditions and the global shift towards stakeholder-driven governance models in the internet sphere. It seeks to understand how this hybrid model influences policy formulation, stakeholder representation, and the balance between authoritative governance and democratic participation, particularly in the context of Morocco’s socio-political and cultural landscape.

Research Questions

1. How does the hybrid multistakeholder governance model shape Morocco’s digital policy landscape, particularly in terms of policy effectiveness and stakeholder engagement?

2. What challenges emerge from blending traditional governance structures with multistakeholder practices in the Moroccan context?


The research employs a case study approach, utilizing qualitative content analysis of Morocco’s digital governance policies, legal texts, and public discourse. Data collection includes remote semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders—government officials, civil society leaders, and technical experts—to gather diverse perspectives. Thematic analysis will be applied to identify patterns and insights within the qualitative data, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the hybrid governance model’s operational dynamics.

Case Study

Focusing on Morocco, the paper examines specific instances where hybrid multistakeholder governance is evident, such as the development and implementation of national cyber policies, engagement with global internet governance entities like ICANN, and the incorporation of civil society and technical communities in the policymaking process. Special attention is given to how this model accommodates Morocco’s linguistic diversity and constitutional commitments to digital rights.

Expected findings

Preliminary analysis is expected to reveal a complex governance landscape where Morocco’s hybrid model fosters collaborative policy environments yet faces challenges related to equitable stakeholder representation and policy coherence. The findings will shed light on the mechanisms that facilitate or hinder effective governance in Morocco’s digital policy domain, offering insights into the broader implications of hybrid multistakeholder governance models.


This paper aims to contribute to the academic discourse on internet governance by providing a detailed examination of Morocco’s hybrid multistakeholder governance model. By highlighting the potential synergies and tensions between traditional and participatory governance structures, the study offers valuable perspectives on the future of internet governance in diverse geopolitical contexts, emphasizing the role of cultural and socio-political factors in shaping digital governance frameworks.

Do Elections Catalyse or Distract Multistakeholder Governance against Information Disorder? Examining the Drivers and Barriers to Sustained Co-Governance Efforts in the Post-Election Period
Beltsazar Krisetya, Centre for Strategic and International Studies


Scholars have established a diverse understanding of how information disorder influences multistakeholder platform governance. One notable trend is the “co-governance” concept, aimed at distributing power between stakeholders equitably to encourage cooperation (Gillespie et al., 2023). The implementation typically involves a mix of rules, norms, guidelines, codes of practice, and recommendations (Abbott & Snidal, 2021; DeNardis & Raymond, 2013).

Co-governance may proliferate under periodic urgencies, such as elections. After the election, however, the momentum for collaboration often fades, risking the dissolution of temporary alliances without mechanisms for continued engagement (Panday et al., 2022). This research then seeks to unravel a puzzle: Despite the periodic urgencies posed by election disinformation, why is there a disconnect in translating these issues into sustainable co-governance within a multistakeholder environment?

This research delineates “co-governance sustainability” as the progression from temporary coordination and program initiatives to lasting, formalised governance structures, potentially encompassing the institutionalisation or regulatory codification of practices and partnerships (Flew & Martin, 2022; Gillespie, 2018). The research question above highlights three literature gaps. Firstly, it highlights the need to understand how short-term multistakeholder initiatives, often mobilised in response to urgent events like elections, integrate into long-term governance strategies (Gorwa, 2021; Kumar et al., 2023). Secondly, it emphasises the necessity to explore the internal fragmentation within stakeholder groups, suggesting that existing models insufficiently capture the complexities of stakeholder interactions in diverse governance scenarios (Gorwa, 2019; Palladino & Santaniello, 2020). Lastly, it underscores the imperative of examining the dynamics of multistakeholder governance in countries with limited domestic stakeholder agency, particularly in contexts where global tech powers dominate, thus affecting the sustainability of platform co-governance (Bradford, 2023; Haggart, 2020; Panday et al., 2022).

The case study of Indonesia’s 2024 General Election presents an opportunity for the empirical part of this research, due to its experience with multistakeholder co-governance initiatives, despite facing challenges such as stakeholder fragmentation and diminished agency (Janti, 2023; Pearce, 2023). The research involves a mixed-method approach, combining archival and discourse analysis to map the formalisation of co-governance initiatives and interpret narratives in public statements and policy discussions (Quan-Haase & Sloan, 2017; Hofmann, 2020). Additionally, stakeholder and elite interviews, along with focus group discussions, will provide insights into trust, interest alignment, and governance adaptability.

The expected findings centre on the resilience and evolution of co-governance initiatives in response to Indonesia’s election disinformation, examining the roles and dynamics within the triad of government, tech platforms, and civil society. It hypothesises that elections serve as a catalyst for temporary co-governance, but these alliances struggle to evolve into sustainable structures post-election due to diverging stakeholder priorities and power asymmetries (Flew, 2021). The research aims to identify mechanisms that transform these temporary efforts into enduring frameworks, contributing to the literature on platform governance sustainability and the challenges of internal stakeholder fragmentation (Flew & Martin, 2022; Gillespie, 2018). Additionally, it seeks to address the limited stakeholder agency in countries influenced by global tech powers, highlighting Indonesia’s position in the digital

More than a Stakeholder: A Global South Feminist Counterpublic Sphere and the Vision of a Gender Just Global Digital Compact
Lisa McLaughlin, Miami University


This paper explores the ways in which feminists in the Global South have organized and prepared for the Global Digital Compact (GDC) expected to be agreed at the Summer of the Future to be held in September 2024. Emphasizing public sphere theory and transnational feminist perspectives, I maintain that Global South feminists have pushed beyond the tendency in the United Nations world conferences on women to act as occasional

counterpublic spheres formed around an event. At this time, I seek to understand what are the internal, opposition processes of a particular Global South feminist public sphere formed around gender digital justice as well as the external function of this public sphere in influencing the processes and contents of the ‘occasional,’ event-oriented public sphere represented by UN preparations for the GDC. The research is in-process because the preparation for the Compact is ongoing.

Feminists from the Global South took on a role as stakeholders after the release of the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda, which initiated the GDC. Consultations were convened across the Global South to work collaboratively on a feminist vision of a digital future. Feminist academics, scholars/practitioners, activists, civil society representatives and trade unionists worked together to establish principles and an action agenda for a global digital compact emphasizing gender justice. The latter was high on the agenda at venues including the meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67) and the meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in 2023. Feminists from the Global South formed a stakeholder group that defies common practices of the UN to pre-establish categories of participants, for example, the wide-ranging “Civil Society” grouping and its subsets. Despite encompassing a wide range of differences, an identity of interests and experiences held enough in common to be more than the category of “stakeholder” and to have formed a counterpublic sphere working toward a feminist digital future.

Global South feminists have rejected the dominant multistakeholder approach typically taken by the UN, embedded in neoliberal policies reinforcing surveillance capitalism, giving license to transnational corporations to control the data commons. As such, a struggle between feminist stakeholders and a traditional UN approach toward multistakeholder events exists prior to GDC negotiations. This paper asks how feminists have made efforts toward digital transformation prior to and during consultations and negotiations for the GDC. My approach is multi-methodological. I have been a participant-observer during the virtual GDC consultations in 2023, and I will continue this through the February 2024 GDC negotiations. For background, I have examined the multistakeholder workings of the UN as a participant-observer beginning with preparations for the first World Summit on the Information Society. I also have conducted research as a participant-observer with Global South feminist organizations since that time. I combine this with critical discourse analyses of UN meetings and documents relevant to the GDC as well as those of feminists in the Global South. In addition, I expect to interview Global South feminists involved in preparing for Global Digital Compact negotiations.

Platform Advocacy and Social Media’s Accountability to Dissident Voices in the Global South
Mai Van Tran, Free University Brussels


Global platforms, such as Facebook, TikTok, and Telegram, have faced widespread criticisms for failing to tackle authoritarian repression of dissident voices, especially in the Global South. In response, human rights defenders have increasingly launched advocacy efforts toward their governments as well as the foreign platforms to defend free speech. Despite the varying forms and effects of such transnational efforts, there lacks research that systematically examines their dynamic. Hence, this study aims to scrutinise the extent to which transnational advocacy might affect social media platforms’ practice to safeguard civic space in the Global South.

Most of the growing scholarship examining the tripartite interactions among governments – civil society – platforms has focused on democratic contexts. Latest studies on the typology and role of civil society actors at global multistakeholder institutions also lack dedicated attention to the experiences of actors from authoritarian regimes in the Global South. There is only some initial recognition for the barriers to participation, including technical knowledge, financial funding, cultural and language differences. On the other hand, the literature on platform governance in authoritarian contexts has mainly emphasised autocratic leaders’ efforts to dominate foreign platforms or the platforms’ role in stifling dissent. Meanwhile, marginalised groups, from Palestinian to Hong Kong netizens, have called on foreign tech giants to engage with local civil society representing vulnerable users, provide more user-friendly appeal options, or resist governments’ removal requests. As a result, platforms have at times taken action to address their content moderation problems.

Drawing upon transnational advocacy scholarship, I argue that the impact of platform advocacy depends on its campaign entrepreneurs’ engagement with strategic allies abroad as well as issue framing strategies. First, the more internationally prominent organisations (i.e. Western media, established human rights INGOs, intergovernmental entities) or high-level decision-makers from the platforms that the advocacy entrepreneurs can engage to amplify their demands, the more likely the advocacy efforts are to influence platform practice. Second, in order for these advocacy efforts to sustain and grow, Western donor funding plays a major role in financing the local entrepreneurs’ initiatives. I argue that they are more likely to obtain such funding if their issue framing resonates with main concerns in the Global North-West (e.g. electoral disinformation and online harassment).

To examine this theoretical framework, the research adopts an exploratory mixed-method design. I conduct semi-structured interviews with 30 respondents from Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, who engage in platform advocacy (toward Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and Telegram) or represent marginalised dissidents. These three contexts are ideal for a comparative research design as there exist similar combinations of digital repression while the advocacy entrepreneurs adopt varying approaches on external engagement and issue framing. Based on insight from the interviews, I identify the 8000 most viral pro- and anti-democracy content from Facebook across the three societies in early 2024 and observe their removal and reposting rate. Together, the evidence demonstrates achievements and challenges in Global South advocacy efforts for social media platforms’ human-rights based content moderation.

Overall, the research elevates the global relevance of the platform governance scholarship by highlighting the oft-neglected experiences and advocacy agency of millions of internet users living under authoritarian regimes. It also deepens our understanding on transnational advocacy by demonstrating the unique dynamics of “big tech” politics in the Global South. Finally, this research offers recommendations to minimise research risks to vulnerable social media users.

Paper Panel Session 3: Multistakeholderism and Digital Sovereignty
(Cyber-) Sovereignty Discourse within the Internet Governance Forum
Christopher Eglinton and Dmitry Epstein, Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Discourses of sovereignty have grown in their scope and intensity in internet governance circles over the years (Mueller, 2020). However, research on (cyber-)sovereignty remains predominantly conceptual and normative, with empirical inquiries remaining relatively scarce (Jansen et al., 2023). Despite broad acknowledgement of the strategic use of the idea of sovereignty in internet governance, what is particularly lacking is empirical research of (cyber-)sovereignty discourses in norms-setting internet policy spaces. To start filling this gap, this project engages with the question of how (cyber-)sovereignty is framed in internet governance deliberations. We do this by computationally analyzing how different stakeholders talk about sovereignty at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which has been studied in the past as a site of discursive struggle in internet governance (e.g. Epstein et.al., 2014; Ishan, 2021; Horne, 2021).

Literature on (cyber-)sovereignty is split between applications of established theories of sovereignty to cyberspace, and criticism of thereof, and attempts to capture or reconceptualize sovereignty in the context of internet governance. Some argue that applying westphalian models of sovereignty and governance onto the internet is widely inappropriate and goes against the view of the internet as a commons (Mueller, 2020). Others point at the use of ideas of sovereignty as a response of state actors against threats and possibilities posed by the free flow of data and information that the internet. For example, Glasze et al., (2023) suggest that while the Russian and Chinese approaches to cyber-sovereignty differ in their conceptual origins and implementation, both share the view of data flows as a threat and leverage sovereignty as means to justify tighter state regulation. At the same time, both the EU and the US engage with the question of sovereignty through the lens of human rights and civil liberties, while focusing on cementing their dominance; yet, the two differ in their view of the role of government, regulation, and the future of sovereignty in cyberspace (also see Farrand & Carrapico, 2022; Bellanova et al., 2022). Others suggest that perspective on (cyber-)sovereignty may differ as a function of the unit of analysis arguing for data sovereignty of individuals (Hummel et al., 2021).

Although the conceptual debate around (cyber-)sovereignty discourse is vibrant, empirical work on the subject remains scarce. In this contribution we analyze the publically available transcripts from every session of the IGF since 2006 until 2022. Among these texts we identified 707 instances of interventions mentioning sovereignty. We extracted the speakers, their affiliation for that year, mapped their corresponding stakeholder grouping, and their country of affiliation (partially relying on the work of Tjahja et al., 2021).

While the analysis is still ongoing, our preliminary results reaffirm the exponential increase in the frequency of mentions of sovereignty across all stakeholder groupings, particularly in 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Further, when conducting sentiment analysis, we observe attitudes towards sovereignty becoming more favorable after 2018, across stakeholder groups excluding the private sector. Moving forward, we intend to apply the ANTMN methodology (Walter & Ophir, 2019) for a more robust analysis of (cyber-)sovereignty framing at IGF across stakeholder groups and over time. Additionally, our early attempts at topic modeling suggest that IGF participants reference individual rights of data sovereignty and national interests merging from the topic modeling when discussing (cyber-)sovereignty.

Global Internet Governance: The Follies of Internet Freedom, Multistakeholderism, and the Rise of Sovereignty Discourse and Digital Constitutionalism
Neelesh Maheshwari, South Asian University


Multistakeholder governance advanced as a result of growing frustration with the perceived inability of intergovernmental multilateral arrangements to deal with global challenges. It was argued that the stakeholders including various corporations, civil society, and states amongst others working together are better apt to deal with new global challenges. In the field of Internet governance, multistakeholder governance was adopted from the beginning largely due to the historical development of the Internet in the US and the US insistence on the ideology of Internet Freedom and a privately governed Internet which can be attributed to the US reluctance to cede control over the internet. The same resulted in the creation of ICANN and IGF, albeit IGF as merely a dialogue forum with no real decision-making powers. The paper grapples with the twin questions of the rise of sovereignty discourse in internet governance and the legitimacy and effectiveness of multistakeholder internet governance. The first section shortly discusses the origin of global internet governance and Internet freedom ideology. Adopting a constructivist lens and using discourse analysis, the second section argues that over the years, multistakeholderism became a discursive and normative tool to justify the existing neo-liberal governance apparatus in the field of internet governance and a way of delegitimizing the genuine grievances with the global internet governance. The existing setup of global internet governance with a focus on self-regulatory approach helped in the accumulation of vast amounts of power in the hands of a few corporate players supported by the US ideology of internet freedom which led to ineffective governance of public policy issues related to human rights, fundamental freedoms, misinformation, disinformation, fake news and led to the emergence of the monopolistic tendencies as well as disparities between Global North and Global South. The third section argues that the current surge of sovereignty discourse in global internet governance, thus, should not be discarded as a mere sign of rising authoritarianism in democratic states and the adoption of illiberal norms, although it can be misused for authoritarian goals. Rather, it is a reaction to the inefficacies of private sector-led, neo-liberal global internet governance which hampered the ability of states and individuals to exercise their rights and perform their respective duties in the existing multistakeholder governance arrangements, putting in question the very legitimacy and effectiveness of multistakeholder internet governance and forums, especially in dealing with human rights and fundamental freedoms. Simplistic distinctions of liberal democratic states vs authoritarian states, multistakeholderism vs sovereignty do not hold in the complex ecosystem of internet governance today. Rather, the real distinction and challenge that democratic countries grapple with is the question of choosing between regulatory and non-regulatory approaches, forging global consensus, and dealing with the challenges brought by either choice. The fourth section discusses global digital constitutionalism as the way forward to both reigning in the authoritarian tendencies of state and the unchecked corporate power. In this light, the paper concludes by arguing that the rise of digital constitutionalism as evident in the digital sovereignty approach of the EU as opposed to the internet freedom approach of the US can prove helpful in strengthening multistakeholder governance by bringing corporate power under constitutional check and balance through a more regulatory role for the state, as well as, by checking the authoritarian ambitions of states, in turn, enhancing the legitimacy and effectiveness of multistakeholder internet governance.

Infrastructural Sanctions, the War in Ukraine, and EU Digital Sovereignty
Niels ten Oever, University of Amsterdam; Clément Perarnaud, Brussels School of Governance; John Kristoff, University of Illinois Chicago; Max Resing, University of Twente; Moritz Müller, University of Twente; Arturo Filastò, Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI); Cris Kanich, University of Illinois Chicago



This article aims to interrogate the actual effects of new forms of EU sanctions, implemented at the infrastructure level of the Internet, and reflect on their political implications for the EU’s approach towards the Internet and the enhancement of its digital sovereignty. Sanctions are criticised for overly targeting civilian populations while leaving elites unscathed. Next to that, over-compliance by industry makes sanctions a relatively blunt and imprecise instrument. We analyse the effectiveness of the implementation of recent sanctions banning Russian media outlets instated by the European Union, in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine (Hofer, 2023), and we seek to understand its consequences. The analysis is based on a unique technical analysis of network interference and website blocking at the EU level, complemented with desk research on recent EU restrictive measures and their implementation.

Theoretical Framework

Rights: In recent digital policy and internet governance literature, the EU approach is regularly described as a ‘right-based approach’ (Bradford, 2023). While sanctions are often used as an instrument against human rights violations, they can also negatively impact human rights (Ververis, 2023). Up to now, the blocking of information never happened on the level of the European Union, but always happened on the level of their Member States. This is why it is of crucial importance to analyse this newfound instrument, looking at its potential impact on freedom of expression and access to information, as well as due process.

Digital Sovereignty: The war in Ukraine is known to have informed and inspired the acceleration of EU legislations aimed at strengthening the EU’s capacity to control its “cyberspace” and the spread of disinformation (Casero-Ripollés et al., 2023), thus fuelling the policy agenda for “EU’s digital sovereignty”. Yet, many authors have observed the still predominant discursive nature of EU digital sovereignty policies. While sanctions are nowhere mentioned as a tool for enhancing digital sovereignty, we will assess whether these EU sanctions could be interpreted as one of its first techno-material digital sovereignty measures. 

Approach and Methodology

For our analysis, we engaged in wide-ranging network measurements in different networks in several EU countries to understand the means and methods of sanctions’ implementation. To accompany and contextualise the measurements, we have done extensive policy analysis of EU digital sovereignty documents, as well as of the policies and processes that have accompanied the sanction development and implementation. 

Expected Findings

Sanctions against Russian entities are inconsistently implemented across the EU.  Measures are enforced very heterogeneously, and these discrepancies induce a form of arbitrariness.  Where the blocks are implemented, users are not informed about the reasons, nor offered the opportunity for due process, indicating a lack of human rights due diligence. Despite the efforts of most EU member states, the analysis indicates that it is still very easy to find content from RT and Sputnik online, both through mirror sites as well as aggregate sites. The findings underline the disconnect between the EU political approach and the complexity of the technical measures needed to enforce those sanctions, and how multistakeholder arrangements can be instrumental levers to EU digital sovereignty.

From Multistakeholderism to Digital Sovereignty: Towards a New Discursive Order in Internet Governance?
Julia Pohle, Berlin Social Science Center; Mauro Santaniello, University of Salerno


This paper analyzes the political dialectic between multistakeholder internet governance and digital sovereignty. Since the early 2000s, the multistakeholder governance approach has been the priority model for transnational internet governance processes reaching far beyond the original field of technical coordination and standard-setting. Albeit being continuously criticized by actors preferring different regulatory approaches, multistakeholderism developed into an almost untouchable mantra carrying the promise of transparency, inclusiveness and consensus-based outcome. Yet, recently an increasing number of actors, including many democratic governments supportive of multistakeholderism (in particular in Europe), have adopted measures and plans to strengthen their own digital sovereignty, advancing discourses and practices that are often at odds with the multistakeholder model. By exploring this emerging dialectic in more detail, the paper seeks to understand how the pursuit of digital sovereignty is increasingly challenging the hegemony of narratives related to the multistakeholder approach in global internet governance. To this purpose, the paper first illustrates the conceptual framework of the study, which draws upon an ideational approach to the inquiry of transnational policymaking. From this perspective, both multistakeholderism and digital sovereignty are conceived of performative policy discourses, each one uttered by a specific group of actors, promoting a well defined set of interests and practices, and relying on a distinctive ensemble of ideas and narratives about how to govern the digital sphere. Drawing on the existing research literature and the authors’ own research, the paper reconstructs how multistakeholderism emerged and quickly gained the status of dominant policy discourse in the internet governance arena, and how it got institutionalized over time. By examining the power/knowledge relations implied by multistakeholderism as an ordering device, the paper further unfolds the connections between multistakeholder governance and neoliberal hegemony and how they became recently challenged by the still evolving digital sovereignty discourse. In particular, the study focuses on two swelling processes that have concurrently affected the boundaries of this discourse: the expansion of its reference objects far beyond the DNS controversy, where the digital sovereignty discourse firstly emerged and remained confined for a couple of decades, and the enlargement of the set of actors embracing the discourse, which now includes players that have been traditionally supportive of multistakeholderism. The paper also identifies key factors contributing to these processes, such as the rise of new global tech powers as well as the decline of the international liberal order and the US hegemony, and also discusses catalyzing events such as Snowden’s revelations and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Finally, building on the above, the paper addresses the question of whether the digital sovereignty discourse is emerging as a new discursive order in the internet governance field, and draws attention on political and geostrategic consequences of such a transformation

Paper Panel Session 4: Geopolitics of Internet Governance
Shades of Digital-Cyber Sovereignty: A Multilayer Analysis of the China-US Cyber Rivalry
Giacomo Bruni, Peace Research Institute Oslo


Is China a revisionist cyber power? How does China’s revisionism manifest across the physical, logical, and social layers of cyberspace? How does it affect multistakeholderism in global Internet governance? This article investigates the international contest for cyberspace governance by examining the unfolding Sino-American cyber-rivalry. It argues that their divergent ideological commitments and political objectives reflect a normative contest over the application of the principle of sovereignty to cyber operations. To illustrate the argument, this article analyses how the China-US normative contest materializes in contrasting bordering practices across the physical, social, and human layers of cyberspace. Focusing on cyber-related matters, the results nuance the current understanding of China’s rise, its impact on the international order, and great power competition. It closes with a discussion, providing useful insights for academics and policymakers alike.

This article is divided into four sections. Section 1 defines cyberspace as composed of a physical, social, and human layer. It argues that, while sovereignty is encompassed across the three layers, states interpret the application of the principle of sovereignty in different shades based on their normative prerogatives. Section 2 builds on existing scholarship to investigate how states project their contrasting normative approaches across the three layers of cyberspace. Engaging with IR borders literature and territorial ontologies of cyberspace, it suggests that states’ normative approaches to sovereignty in cyberspace manifest in distinct bordering practices across the three layers of cyberspace. After having clarified the theoretical underpinnings of the article, Section 3 presents the China-US cyber-rivalry and expands, focusing on cyber-related matters, on existing literature about China’s rise, its impact on the international order, and great power competition. This section investigates empirically how the China-US cyber-rivalry manifests across the three layers of cyberspace. Section 4 closes with a discussion of the results, nuancing dichotomic narratives about the rivalry and providing useful insights on China’s internet governance model and its impact on multistakeholderism in global internet governance.

Hollow Multilateralism: How Autocracies Contest Norms and Procedures of International Organizations
Daniëlle Flonk, Hitotsubashi University; Maria J. Debre, Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen


Research question

During the G20 foreign ministers meeting in New Delhi in March 2023, Chinese minister of foreign affairs of the People’s Republic of China Qin Gang called on all G20 nations to “practice true multilateralism, uphold the UN-centered international system and the international order based on international law.” International relations scholars assume that multilateralism, usually understood as rules-based and inclusive forms of international interaction based on international law, is a key component of the liberal international order (see, for instance, Börzel & Zürn, working paper; Eilstrup-Sangiovanni & Hofmann, 2020; Ikenberry, 2018). If this is, in fact, the case, why are autocracies promoting multilateralism in international organizations?


We argue that the promotion of multilateralism by authoritarian regimes is a fig leave to use the rules and principles of the liberal international order to hollow out the system from within. This is achieved via two strategies. First, autocracies can legitimize illiberal practices at home and protect themselves from international interference by promoting shallow international standards of international law that do not contain commitment to implementation (Börzel, 2015; Tallberg et al., 2020). Second, autocracies attempt to exclude critical non-state actors from international debates by advocating for a form of multilateralism that is based on one-country-one-vote principles under the guise of democratizing international relations (Flonk, 2021; Mueller, 2011). In combination, autocracies promote a form of multilateralism that is both procedurally and substantively hollow.

Research design

Our approach analyzes the discourse of autocracies when they promote norms and decision-making procedures within these organizations. We focus on the issue area of global internet governance, because it is an emerging field that is still taking shape and in flux.

We systematically collect and analyze instances of substantive and procedural hollow multilateralism in several steps. First, we identify a number of international institutions where we expect instances of hollow multilateralism to occur. Second, within those institutions, we collect all speeches and statements by countries. Third, after collecting the data, we inductively code statements and speeches. With regard to substantive multilateralism, we code the degree of commitment of the policy output, ranging from deep norm commitment to shallow norm recognition (based on Tallberg et al., 2016, 2020). With regard to procedural multilateralism, we code references to decision-making procedures, such as one-country-one-vote principles, multistakeholderism, or the role of civil society.

Preliminary findings

We will present the early qualitative results of our content analysis in two cases: the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security between 2004 and 2021, and in the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group from 2018 onwards.

With regard to substantive multilateralism, we see that autocrats often make an effort to downplay or reshape substantive norms – such as the protection of human rights online – in several ways. For instance, if they do refer to broader human rights norms online, they keep them shallow and vague, providing lip service instead of more concrete measures such as compliance with these norms. With regard to procedural multilateralism, we see autocratic countries actively creating competitive regimes and shifting regimes to internet governance institutions in which they have more influence. Even though frames such as inclusiveness are used, these new institutions do not (or only in a limited way) include non-state actors.

The Securitization of Data Flows in the Context of Sino-American Relations: Potential Impact on Internet Fragmentation
Marilia Maciel, Diplo Foundation


This paper builds upon a PhD thesis on the securitization of Information and Communication Technologies and Services (ICTS) in the context of Sino-American relations. While the doctoral research focused on the layers of infrastructure and protocols, this paper extends the analysis to applications. It focuses on the securitization of cross-border data flows in a context of growing use of foreign applications and services. Attempts to restrict the use of TikTok in the US serve as a case study.

Data and data-driven technologies generate economic value across industries (Agarwal and Mishra, 2022). This galvanized support to ‘free cross-border data flows’ as an underlying principle of the digital economy, and also a corollary to Internet openness (Mishra, 2019). In the midst of Sino-American tensions, the US is aiming to “reduc[e] the density of America’s trade and technological linkages with China” in strategic areas, promoting a so-called ‘targeted decoupling’ (Segal, 2021). The pursuit of this goal is taking place in a situation of ‘national emergency’ with respect to the ICTS supply chain, introduced by Executive Order (EO) 13873 of May 2019. This EO provided the basis for subsequent data-related measures, such as EO 14034 of June 2021, focused on the protection of Americans’ sensitive data against foreign adversaries, and the approval of the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act”, a 2022 federal law that prohibits the use of TikTok on government devices. Other bills currently under discussion seek to introduce a nationwide ban on TikTok and other applications that threaten US National Security. At the level of foreign policy, the US decided to withdraw its historic support for negotiations on data flows in the context of the WTO.

Policies adopted by the US and China matter beyond the bilateral relation because both countries hold the largest volume of datasets and data-related infrastructure (UNCTAD, 2021). This paper sheds light on the securitization of data flows and its potential impact on Internet fragmentation. Securitization is understood not only as a process whereby issues are framed by securitizing agents as existential threats against a referent object (Buzan et al., 1998), but also as an ‘assemblage of practices’ (Balzacq, 2011) of risk-management, by means of which “the exceptional condition threatens to become the norm” (Kirk, 2020). The following questions guide the analysis: (1) Does the discourse produced in the context of restrictions targeted at TikTok indicate the securitization of cross-border data flows that underpin the functioning of foreign applications and services? (2) What is the interplay between US concerns with national security and the objective to enact stronger ‘tech regulation’? (3) Does securitization contribute to fragmentation of the Internet from the perspectives of multistakeholder governance, and user experience?

The evaluation of questions 1 and 2 will be based on the qualitative analysis of discourse contained in a sample of written documents in which the ‘grammar of security’ (Buzan et al., 1998; Hansen and Nissenbaum, 2009) has been exposed. Secondary sources will be used to tackle question 3, especially outcome documents from discussions taking place in the Policy Network on Internet Fragmentation of the IGF (IGF, 2023).

Moving Further from Multistakeholder Governance? Understanding the Discursive Positioning of Chinese Tech Companies within the Country’s AI Regulation Framework (2019-2023)
Zhan Zhang, University of Nottingham Ningbo China


This study examines the development of artificial intelligence (AI) governance in China, tracing the trajectory from the issuance of the Principles of Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Governance by the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2019 to the implementation of the Interim Regulation on the Management of Generative AI Services by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2023. Situating the regulatory evolution within the broader context of China’s internet governance architecture, this paper scrutinizes Beijing’s ‘balancing act’ between emphasizing “national security and social public interests” through its digital sovereignty approach and promoting its new strategies for safeguarding the rights of diverse societal stakeholders, including organizations, corporations, and citizens amid the country’s rapid advancement in AI. Central to this inquiry is the strategic positioning and influence of leading Chinese technology firms as the main technical and business drivers within the country’s AI governance framework. The analysis probes whether China’s approach to AI regulation signifies a further departure from multistakeholder internet governance towards a model that consolidates state-centric governance, or whether it seeks a more inclusive and cooperative stance under the newly formed national strategy of ‘a community with a shared future in cyberspace’.

Employing a mixed-methods approach, the paper draws on four primary data sources: 1) governmental AI policy documents (2019-2023) as the official regulatory corpus, 2) corporate AI disclosures in annual reports from Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba (2019-2023), 3) social organizational corpus from the white papers published by the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence (2019-2023) as the social and only national-level academic association in the field of AI, and 4) AI regulation-related news articles from Chinese media outlets, as indexed by the Factiva database. Through both quantitative methods, including word clusters and correlation matrices, and qualitative discourse analysis, this study analyzes the evolving narrative surrounding AI regulation in China. It highlights the increasingly marginalized roles and initiatives of corporate actors within this sphere. For example, the analysis uncovers a pronounced correlation between corporate entities and key dimensions such as AI technology, data practices, and ethical considerations. However, this correlation stands in contrast to the alignment with government directives and societal expectations, illustrating the diminished capacity of corporations to negotiate and align their interests within China’s complex and rapidly changing AI regulatory landscape. Moreover, by examining such narrowing influence of technical and business stakeholders within the country’s state-centric governance model, the study raises questions regarding the consequences of such dynamics for China’s position in the global AI marketplace and its aspirations for leadership in AI innovation, especially in light of ongoing global discussions concerning AI ethics and regulation.

This paper contributes to the understanding of AI governance dynamics in China and underscores the critical need for a balanced approach that accommodates diverse interests while steering the development of AI technologies in alignment with global standards and ethical considerations.

Privacy Framing in Legislative Hearings after Cambridge Analytica: Analysis of Stakeholders and Discourses
Dmitry Epstein, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Rotem Medzini, University of Birmingham


Data governance has become an integral part of internet governance debates. In this context, it is increasingly important to understand how privacy is conceptualized by different stakeholders, particularly among policy and technological elites in different geographies. Engaging with this challenge, we aim to contribute to the literature on how influential stakeholders – those who develop and regulate information technologies – talk about privacy.

Conceptually, we leverage research that distinguishes between vertical (institutional) and horizontal (social) orientations of privacy, and build on framing literature, which links frames in communication and frames in thought. Empirically, we conduct a quantitative content analysis of the 2018 2018 US Senate and House hearings, as well as three out of five sessions of the European Parliament, that followed the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We developed and validated a dedicated coding scheme, which captures both privacy-specific attributes (e.g. vertical and horizontal orientations, proximity to the acting agent, value- and cognate-based frames) and more general frame attributes (e.g. positive vs. negative, thematic vs. episodic, attribution). Upon initial training, about 30% of the interventions were coded by two coders to establish intercoder reliability.

Our preliminary results point towards an overall dominance of vertical privacy framing in privacy policy discourses involving the government and the industry (particularly in the EU). This stands in contrast with earlier findings about the dominance of horizontal framing among the users of social media. Additionally, our findings highlight both the differences between the industry and the lawmakers in their framing of privacy, and the political nature of privacy as a vessel for normative perspectives and ideological positions of the elites. Facebook leadership is relatively more likely to use horizontal framing (also employing richer frames), compared to parliamentarians in both the US and the EU. Facebook leadership is also more cautious in its use of infringement framing, compared to parliamentarians (particularly in the EU), whereas there are no significant differences in the use of protection framing when it comes to privacy.

Similarly, conservative parliamentarians are relatively more likely to use horizontal framing (also employing richer frames), compared to their liberal counterparts (who are more likely to use vertical privacy frames that are also relatively richer). At the same time, liberal parliamentarians tend to use richer infringement framing, compared to their conservative counterparts (particularly in the US).

Our research effort is well underway. As we progress with completing the manuscript by the conference deadlines, we will draw a more nuanced and pronounced picture of the emerging dynamics outlined above, and clarify our comparative perspective. It is our aspiration in this project to contribute to the study of multistakeholderism as an ideological proxy and a discursive strategy. On one hand, by analyzing framing in actual policy deliberation, we demonstrate how different stakeholders contest the definition and policy approaches towards internet governance issues. On the other hand, we map how stakeholder identities are used to avoid or assign responsibility in the context of data governance debates.