Governance Innovation for a Connected World: Protecting Free Expression, Diversity and Civic Engagement in the Global Digital Ecosystem

The emergence of a global digital ecosystem has been a boon for global communication and the democratization of the means of distributing information. The internet, and the social media platforms and web applications running on it, have been used to mobilize pro-democracy protests and give members of marginalized communities a chance to share their voices with the world. However, more recently, we have also seen this technology used to spread propaganda and misinformation, interfere in election campaigns, expose individuals to harassment and abuse, and stir up confusion, animosity and sometimes violence in societies. Even seemingly innocuous digital technologies, such as ranking algorithms on entertainment websites, can have the effect of stifling diversity by failing to reliably promote content from underrepresented groups. At times, it can seem as if technologies that were intended to help people learn and communicate have been irreparably corrupted. It is easy to say that governments should step in to control this space and prevent further harms, but part of what helped the internet grow and thrive was its lack of heavy regulation, which encouraged openness and innovation. However, the absence of oversight has allowed dysfunction to spread, as malign actors manipulate digital technology for their own ends without fear of the consequences. It has also allowed unprecedented power to be concentrated in the hands of private technology companies, and these giants to act as de facto regulators with little meaningful accountability. So, who should be in charge of reversing the troubling developments in our global digital spaces? And what, if anything, can be done to let society keep reaping the benefits of these technologies, while protecting it against the risks?