Internet Governance

In her book, the Global War for Internet Governance, Professor Laura DeNardis states that the question over who should have authority over “critical Internet resources” (CIRs) is the most tangible disagreement when it comes to a potential central authority governing the internet. Most nation states actually do not have direct jurisdiction over the distribution of CIRs and this distribution also tends to occur outside traditional economic markets. 

So who governs the internet?  The answer: Multiple institutions which have multiple stakeholders.  These institutions include the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), regional Internet registries (RIRs), Domain Name System registries, and domain name registrars. Because of the United States’ relationship with key parts of this governance infrastructure, especially ICANN, it has played a key (and what some have criticized as overly influential) role in internet governance.

The current global internet governance structure brings to mind questions of equitable allocation of resources and undue influence of the nations that are most closely intwined with the key governing institutions.


Governance vs. Government

Governance and government.  Two words that sound a lot alike but actually are different.  Government is the actual system that governs a state: makes rules, regulations, etc.  It’s the official, structural form of regulations within a state.  Governance is much broader and can be various types of organizations or groups making rules and regulations; sometimes official, sometimes unofficial.  When thinking of governance, the power is much more widely distributed.  The ability to set standards, rules, expectations, etc can be divided between the official government, corporations, society, NGO’s, or any group.

For example, as we discussed in class, the role of society and governance.  While the federal government and the FCC may not restrict certain images or words being used on broadcast television, society can certainly regulate by their consumption habits.  Right or wrong, we as Americans have a low threshold for graphic images of war, certainly compared to other international news organization’s standards.  While legally the American news could show more graphic images, their viewers would probably either change the channel or write letters in anger.  Thus, society is governing the news media, not just the government.

Governments and Governance

According to Avshalom Ginosar’s article, Media Governance: A Conceptual Framework or Merely a Buzz Word?, the definition of “governance” is ambiguous and disagreed upon by media and communication scholars. Ginosar suggests viewing the term as a way to classify communication systems within six components:
1. modes of governing;
2. institutions;
3. level;
4. stakeholders;
5. mechanisms of control;
6. products of the policy process

The definition of “governments,” however, is less contentious and traditionally viewed as institutions that create public policy to govern a nation-state. The traditional regulation process and power structure of governments are vertical with no private actors. But because of globalization and a shift of power among actors (private sector, NGOs, etc.), Ginosar asserts that this old school concept of national government and its role in public policy has been challenged. Governance is a complex, new control system that can be multileveled with multiple actors–from traditional state institutions to international institutions, to private corporations to public organizations, etc.– that both create policy and participate in various ways. This process can be pluralistic, thereby distributing the power. Importantly, the differences between the two terms/concepts helps to establish a sliding scale of the different types of governance possible within communication systems.

Internet Governance: Public versus Private.

When we we hear the term “governance”, we often think of sovereign, independent nation-states and their central powers of government. However, as many emerging governments have been unable to handle the responsibilities of managing nations with limited resources in unstable political environments, governance is often shifted to other actors. For example, the “governance” of Cambodia is not independently handled by the Cambodian government, but also several other entities like the World Bank, transnational corporations and even celebrity philanthropist, Angelina Jolie. Similarly, the governance of the internet is handled by no one single entity or organization. In fact, debates over governance still exist and actively contribute both the nation of Cambodia and the internet as a platform for communication. Just as globalization in the post-colonial era has shifted the responsibility of the governance of nation-states to various actors, the internet is increasingly diversified and everyone seems to be fighting for a piece of the pie.

Professor Milton Mueller describes internet governance as, “The simplest, most direct, and inclusive label for the ongoing set of disputes and deliberations over how the internet is coordinated, managed and shaped to reflect policies.” But what is being fought for? Many international communications scholars believe the deliberation for ownership of the internet has to do with where power is centralized. According to Laura Denardis in her book, The Global War for Internet Governance, “A significant question of internet governance addresses the appropriate balance of power between the nation and the privatized.” Allocations of the limited internet resources will determine who can use these communication platforms and in turn, who can profit economically and politically from them. Internet governance will continue to be a multi-stakeholder debate, and the results will effect the power relationships between different nations and private actors in the future.

Ramifications of Media’s “Participatory Turn”

In Part 3 of the International Journal of Communication 8 (2014), Henry Jenkins states: “To what degree has the rise of networked computing encouraged us to reimagine the public sphere?”  We are seeing the ramifications of media’s participatory turn played out across the world from Hong Kong to Iraq.  However, as Moya Bailey in that same journal, asserts that “political participation via social media often feels reactionary,” and may lead to higher levels of burnout. In the case of Hong Kong, it remains to be seen whether the movement will continue to go strong or be subject to intimidation and burnout.

The Bummers of Convergence Culture

Both Mark Deuze and Brittany Fiore-Silfvast in their respective works mention the benefits of convergence culture’s participatory nature, including a decentralization of power between industry and consumer and an ability to organize and cooperatively engage in everything from war to shopping. However convergence culture still has its pitfalls.

Deuze mentions Castells’ term, “networked individualism” where in a “digital culture people interact, collaborate and engage, but tend to do so strictly individually, interacting their own interest—whether it is in a certain type of news, a certain aspect of a game or a certain product for sale online.” According to Deuze, in convergence culture, community and individual actions occur simultaneously. This schizophrenic nature gives users an illusion that they are engaged in a vast community while they are actually being filtered into a bubble of their own interests. Because users can cherry pick the content that they see and engage with and the platforms on which they produce material, it narrows their worldview. New media may have eliminated physical proximity to other users, but it is also siloing users into disparate communities.

Another downside to the illusion of engagement is “slacktivism” or “armchair activism”– where one does advocacy through liking, thumbs-upping, reposting, regraming, retweeting, (insert other feedback mechanism here), etc. content. Minimal effort or commitment is required, yet the user feels he or she is engaged on an issue. Kirk Kristofferson, Katherine White and John Peloza published a study this year where they found that those who support causes publicly (via social platforms) are less likely to meaningfully engage later on versus those who privately supported a cause (i.e. wrote a letter to congress). The support via a public digital platform becomes merely a token gesture. If slacktivism becomes a norm and pushes real engagement to the periphery, it would negatively impact the public sphere and cut into the decentralized and participatory nature (i.e. the positives) of convergence culture.

Music as Global Diplomacy

Music brings people together arguably unlike any other form of entertainment. You don’t need to understand the lyrics to bond with someone over good sounds and start dancing. It can also be a form of public diplomacy when musicians from one country travel to another either for a performance or some other reason. It’s easy to understand how the music business is a global entity, but what I really love is the more creative aspects of sharing music from all over the world and musicians collaborating together from different places. One example:

In this video Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band and Trey Anastasio of the band Phish travel to Senegal to meet and perform with Orchestra Baobab. There’s some really great highlights from this 45-minute VH1 documentary (Dave walking down the street holding hands with his Senegalese tour guide and talking about how nice it was and different from what is “normal” in America, etc) but skip to 38-minutes to see them perform one of the band’s song and then watch Orchestra Baobob play one of Phish’s songs during which you hear Trey comment, “…you know the fantasy of having that song handed to the people who could actually play that style of music that I was trying to copy. I knew that they could take it over because it was an Americanization of their language.”

Grainy quality but fun to watch!