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Thursday, May 16 • 09:30 - 10:30
Opening Plenary - Shrinking Democratic Space Online

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Session in brief: In many contexts, the Internet has provided increased freedom and opportunity for citizens and civil society to communicate, gather and share information, to collaborate and organise, in ways and to an extent, never before seen in history.

However, the online landscape is shifting rapidly, and the space for online, democratic discourse is shrinking.

The threats have evolved over the past decade. The mostly inept responses from government to popular protests in the Arab world a decade ago have given way to the complex mesh of threats that is the Internet 2019: an increasingly securitised space that is becoming the main battleground for power in the 21st century. This development mirrors the offline space, with repressive measures spreading and becoming more diverse. With governments emphasising the security perspective, the role of citizens and civil society in advocating for a principled, rights-based approach to the online sphere is more significant than ever.

We are at a fork in the road. A toxic mix of state and non-state disinformation, hoarding of personal data, information attacks on core democratic functions, increased authoritarianism and surveillance has created real risks for global democratic development. Use of algorithms and commercially driven polarisation are poisoning the public debate. The normative space is also changing, as the (sometimes intentional) insecurity created by some actors has succeeded in increasing the demand for regulation and limiting the online space, also in democratic countries.

The situation is grave and requires coordinated action between all those working for democratic online space, whether in civil society, technology, politics or business. This session seeks to unwrap this complex mesh of issues, nuance how the phenomenon of “shrinking space” is expressed in different contexts and to different actors, and frame discussions for upcoming panels and chart possible ways forward to support a free, open and secure Internet.

avatar for Agnes Callamard

Agnes Callamard

Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression
Dr. Agnes Callamard is the Director of Global Freedom of Expression & Information @Columbia, an initiative seeking to advance global understanding and global progressive norms on freedom of expression and information. She also works as a Special Adviser to the President of Columbia... Read More →
avatar for Gayatri Khandhadai

Gayatri Khandhadai

Asia Policy Regional Coordinator, Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
avatar for Nathalie Besèr

Nathalie Besèr

SIF Moderator
I am the main moderator at SIF2019. I work as an adviser to 16 MPs. For many years I was a Middle East Correspondent to the leading Swedish Daily Dagens Nyheter and before that a producer, radio host and journalist at the Swedish Radio. I also used to work at the Swedish news agency... Read More →
avatar for Carin Jämtin

Carin Jämtin

Director General,, Swedish International Development Agency (Sida)

Peter Pomerantsev

author and journalist

Thursday May 16, 2019 09:30 - 10:30 CEST