Introducing the Better Internet Series

Anna Tumadóttir

This year at CC Global Summit, we hosted two workshops focused on the notion of a better version of the internet. For the workshops, we prepared in smaller groups, identified common areas of interest and concern, and gathered a global group of voices to dig into the issues. In this blog post, we introduce the Better Internet series, which we will use to share the findings of the workshops we hosted at the CC Global Summit, explore the perspectives communicated by those who participated, and share what we are working on with partners to drive these conversations forward and take action. 

Throughout 2021, community partners interested in building what was loosely being called a “better internet” have been coming together for conversations. Some partners joined as an opportunity to mark the 10th anniversary of the US-based fight to defeat the legislation known as SOPA/PIPA.

Anniversaries are often an opportune time to not only look back, but to also look forward to the future. In fact, many anniversaries are being celebrated in the open movement this year. Twenty years ago, Creative Commons (CC), Wikimedia, Public Knowledge, and MIT OpenCourseWare were founded. Ever ahead of the curve, the Internet Archive celebrated 25 years. Collectively, we’ve all been looking back – and looking forward – and talking about how, as forces with shared values, we can help keep the internet open, accessible, and safe for the future. 

The conversations range from light and reflective to deep and contemplative. Some have been asynchronous. Some become a snowball that starts rolling down the hill into reflections about better days, and past collaborations about an open internet. Before major platforms. Before social media. Before clickbait, misinformation, and fake news. There is a desire among this group to build an improved version of the internet for those who live there now, and protect its best features for the future generations to come.

Today, we are imagining a multi-stakeholder public interest technology alliance, working together to shape a vision for a Better Internet. Let’s protect the good and define a positive, affirmative view of how we can solve and transform the challenges we face.

At this year’s CC Global Summit, we hosted two workshops focused on this notion of a better version of the internet. This fully supports our vision to advance Better Sharing, outlined in our current organizational strategy. For the Summit workshops, we prepared in smaller groups, identified common areas of interest and concern, and gathered together a global group of voices to dig into the issues.

Our focus was on:

  • Misinformation and Disinformation
  • Access to Information and Knowledge
  • Platformization and Choice
  • Internet Architecture and Open Standards
  • Last Mile Access

Today, we are imagining a multi-stakeholder public interest technology alliance, working together to shape a vision for a Better Internet. Let’s protect the good and define a positive, affirmative view of how we can solve and transform the challenges we face.

We also called for folks to explore what the concept of Positive Internet Citizenship might mean for this movement, and the critical role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in all of the work that we want to carry forward.

In some ways, these are distinct topics, each with their own set of existing actors, policy environments, and agendas. In other ways, they’re slices from the same apple. Considerations for fighting misinformation can tie back to provenance of content, which can be strengthened by greater access to information. Open standards and interoperability would decrease the power of platformization to keep folks locked into separate walled gardens. Every issue must be grounded in the importance of protecting fundamental human rights online and empowering those who are marginalized. The absolute prerequisite to any of this is folks actually being online. We cannot ignore last mile access as a key matter of equity and access.

It turns out a lot of folks have been thinking along these same lines, as the desire to steer our way towards a better digital experience takes hold at all levels. Our work will be to effectively work together and find common ground.

In the United States, President Biden’s Summit for Democracy is publicly about protecting democracy and advancing human rights, but on the fringe there is a plan emerging to form a new alliance – The Alliance for the Future of the Internet. As Politico reported earlier in November, civil society groups appear jarringly absent from the alleged multi-stakeholder effort. In addition, critics may also point to the fact that instead of building something new, perhaps building on something existing, like the Freedom Online Coalition, would be a more useful investment. It remains to be seen how this will all play out.

Earlier this month, the Knight Foundation hosted a digital event, Lessons from the First Internet Ages, which brought together activists, academics, civil servants, and everything in between, to reflect on the last 30 days, and posit how things might have been done, and perhaps should be done differently. Members of the open movement contributed their voices, from Creative Commons board member Alexander Macgillivray, to Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, to creator and tech activist Cory Doctorow, and many more luminaries.

The signals from government and civil society that we need to build a better internet may in part be getting stronger due to the digital policy environment globally. In the EU, a number of challenges have been identified with the transposition of Article 17 of the CDSM Directive. There is potential for openly licensed and public domain content, along with other content being used legitimately, to be over-filtered or taken down, which would be a massive blow to those who work towards free and open access to knowledge and information. Concurrently, the Digital Services Act that is being debated has the potential to overregulate and impact freedom of expression. We want to see a balance between online safety and individual empowerment being preserved, as the #OffOn campaign is fighting for.

As Creative Commons coordinates with other organizations to continue these conversations around a Better Internet, and give shape to a movement, the very underpinnings include using our existing collective power of convening to impact change. Call it an alliance. Call it a coalition. Call it a movement. Call it a multi-stakeholder effort. At the end of the day, this is about folks working on different but complementary issues, coming together across local, regional, and national divides to give shape to our own civil society agenda, to fulfill the promise of the Internet, and to build something that works for the people and serves the public interest. In the coming weeks, we will be sharing some of the findings from the workshops we hosted at the CC Global Summit, exploring the perspectives communicated by those who took part, and sharing what we’re working on with fellow believers to continue moving the conversation forward. Watch this space and help us expand the values on which we can build a Better Internet.