Skip to main content
GISWatch 2024 Special Edition

From 27 to 31 May, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) will hold a High-Level Event in Geneva, 20 years after the initial WSIS Forum brought together stakeholders from around the globe to discuss the future of internet governance. The summit aims to achieve a common vision, desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society where everyone can create, access, utilise and share information.

APC, in partnership with IT for Change and with the support of WACC, are preparing to launch a special edition of APC’s groundbreaking periodic publication Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) on the theme of "WSIS+20: Reimagining horizons of dignity, equity and justice for our digital future".

The immediate aim of this GISWatch special edition is to influence and provoke discussions at the upcoming WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event from a civil society and social justice perspective. It aims to be analytical, provocative and questioning of WSIS as a mechanism for multistakeholder deliberation and planning for our digital future in a changing context. It builds on a special edition published 10 years after the initial WSIS forum, examining civil society perceptions on communication rights.

This special edition brings together a series of thematic reports drawing on research from experts who have engaged in the WSIS process since its inception, as well as leading researchers discussing the relevance and importance of the WSIS framework and how it can shape the future of the information society. It considers how the learnings of 20 years ago are relevant to our current needs as well as how to revise the WSIS outcomes in the modern context. It explores the multistakeholder approach to governance including imbalances that have emerged in this approach, emphasing the necessary role of civil society in any governance process.

A brief history of WSIS

Twenty years ago, stakeholders gathered in Geneva at the first WSIS and affirmed a “common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society.” This is considered a “first-ever, clear statement of political will on establishing digitally-connected societies for the benefit of all and harnessing information communication technologies (ICTs) to support development objectives.” Since the framework for cooperation was set out in the Geneva Plan of Action (2013), much has changed in the global digital context, while many challenges still remain.

Ten years ago, APC published a review of communications rights following the first WSIS Forum in Geneva a decade earlier. Released as a special edition of GISWatch, it drew on an interview-based survey with civil society stakeholders, and considered multiple issues, including the instability of the language used when talking about participation and inclusion, awareness of WSIS and the impact of its outcomes at the national level, and the extent to which many of the WSIS priorities have concretely entered into policy discussions,[1] including the rights of different groups such as women, the youth and Indigenous communities.

A shifting digital terrain

In the past 20 years, the information society and the global digital landscape have undergone many shifts, with substantially more people having access to the internet than 20 years ago. In turn, the contexts we work in have altered significantly. Some of these changes and ongoing challenges include:

  • Barriers to access such as high data costs tend to mirror social inequalities in that they impact primarily the poor, with the result that the current pace and intensity of digitalisation has the potential to increase inequalities.
  • Digitalisation and the impacts of digital growth are no longer a concern of ICT policy makers, digital rights actors, or expert technical communities alone, but have cross-sectoral and widespread societal ramifications.
  • Many of the rights issues that access to the internet provokes have become mainstreamed. While this broad public awareness and concern is critical to the development and use of digital resources, in many instances it has also led to a preoccupation with the social harms that digitalisation can produce rather than a foregrounding of the opportunities that ICTs can enable for social good.
  • The governance frameworks for the digital and information society have become much more complex compared to 20 years ago, with multiple forums and processes that are often difficult for civil society actors, particularly from the global South, to access, understand and influence.
  • The multistakeholder approach was fundamental to the development of the WSIS Action Plan, and a formative approach for many subsequent governance deliberations, including at the national level in some countries. However, a commitment to this approach appears to be faltering.
  • The growing strength of right wing and populist politics and authoritarianism is resulting in an increase in human rights violations and a narrowing of civic space in countries across the world. The rapid digitalisation of societies has in many instances assisted this shift to the right, including through the complicity of tech corporations in human rights abuses through the provision of security, monitoring and surveillance technologies, or by providing communications data to states that turn on their citizens (with more people online, more people can be surveilled and controlled).
  • The structural role that Big Tech firms play in multiple spaces and areas of service provision to states, and the dependency of markets, including national economies, on the corporate tech sector, suggests that the impact of any regulation is likely to be limited and compromised in curbing their influence and power.
  • The environmental footprint of digital technologies and infrastructures has multiplied exponentially, is likely to grow exponentially with the intensification of data economies and the widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI), and is environmentally unsustainable due to resource scarcity, a substantial increase in emissions through our use of technology, and linear rather than circular economic development.
  • Current usage statistics for monitoring the development of the information society are uneven, unreliable and inadequate to really understand how to draft impactful policy and regulations, or how to set norms and standards.
What to expect in the GISWatch 2024 Special Edition

Ten years after our initial analysis of the WSIS process, this special edition of GISWatch is intended to provoke fresh questions and offer informed analyses on the successes, failures and challenges of the WSIS process and outcomes in a changed context. It aims to stimulate, contribute to and help frame the deliberations in upcoming WSIS+20 events from a civil society and social justice perspective.

We will be announcing more news about the upcoming launch of the GISWatch Special Edition ahead of the WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event at the end of May. Stay tuned!


For more information, subscribe to the APC newsletter, join the conversation on social media, and visit GISWatch online.



[1] In 2003, as part of the Communication. Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) campaign, civil society perspectives were also gathered to inform the WSIS process.